I’ve started writing THE BODY IN THE TRENCH, my seventh Jazzi and Ansel cozy. I had plot points–one for every chapter–so I knew how the story flowed in my head. So what did I do? I moved things around as soon as I reached chapter 2. I thought it would make the pace faster. Moving plot points and changing my mind doesn’t bother me at all. It’s like cooking. If I have all of the ingredients and a recipe I trust, I can tinker with it all I want, as long as I write a chapter a day most week days.
A chapter a day–most days–gives me enough progress to keep me motivated. Some take longer than others. There are those nice, happy scenes where the words flow and the ideas stream onto the page. On those days, I can quit early or sneak in another chapter. Then there are scenes that fight me every other sentence. The dialogue feels stilted. The descriptions make me yawn. If I squint, I see word repetitions sprinkled in every other paragraph. Doesn’t matter. I pound out the chapter anyway. When I go back to it the next day, I can make it better.
Some scenes are just plain tricky to deal with. Too many characters doing too many different things and yapping at each other. Or two or three scenes in the same chapter. I sit at my computer longer on days like that. Even the rewrites take more time. But good and bad days even out eventually, and if I just keep pounding keys, the book keeps growing.
I’m slow and methodical, but that works for me. I’m more of a perspiration than inspiration type writer. I like having deadlines, but I don’t like having to worry if I’ll meet them. I don’t write as well when I’m stressed. I’m like the tortoise, not built for speed. When I feel scrunched, I’m stressed. Arrgh! I have to force myself not to write shorter chapters to move the book along. Sure, I’d get to the end faster, but my word count would be pitiful.
What about you? Do you like deadlines? Do you write better under pressure? I know some people do. Or does pressure mess with you? Are you a marathon writer or a sprinter?
However you work best, I hope the words flow. And happy writing!
I’m writing this on Tuesday, the 22nd, and I’ll post it later, but my fifth Jazzi Zanders cozy just went up for sale. I always get excited when a new book comes out. And I get nervous. What if readers don’t like this one as much as the last? What if readers are just tired of my stories?
I’ve been so lucky with the reviews I’ve been getting. Readers who went to NetGalley started writing them early on Goodreads. They encouraged me. I’m so grateful to readers who take the time to write them. They have no idea what a difference it makes to me when I’m starting to fret. When a wonderful reader tells me how much she likes my characters and the feeling of family in my books, it makes me feel that I’m getting that right. Other readers like the family meals and recipes. And a few are in love with George, Ansel’s spoiled pug. It’s wonderful to see some of the same reviewers who’ve read Jazzi since the first book came out. I love it when they say they can’t wait for the next one. That’s a special compliment, and I appreciate it. They have no idea how much their comments motivate me when I’m trudging through middle muddles or the feeling I get about three-fourths of the way through every novel that the book I’m working on is hopeless and will never be good. Or when I’m just doubting myself…because I can. (I hope I’m not the only one who does that).
Of course, there are always a few reviews that sting, but I’ve learned that I can’t please everyone. I still read them to see if there’s something I can do better. What one person writes that they like, though, another person might complain about. There are reviews that are just plain unfair–like when a reader’s in the mood for a thriller and didn’t like my cozy–but I don’t concentrate on those.
Today, close to suppertime, though, it’s been a good release day. Most people seem to like this book. My pipedream of making the New York Times bestseller list isn’t going to happen, but my worst fears haven’t either. So I’m happy:)
Best wishes to you and whatever you’re working on.
I’m really excited to have Kathleen Palm visit my blog today. She loves horror and YA, so when I invited her to submit a story for the anthology MURDER THEY WROTE, it threw her:) But IN THE PLUM ATTIC has been mentioned as one of the favorites in reviews a few times. And for good reason. Two sisters haunt an attic. Why? And how does the new family who moved there get rid of them? That’s mystery enough for me!
Welcome, Kathy! Thanks so much for visiting my blog.
1. What worried you the most about writing a story for the anthology, MURDER THEY WROTE? The fact that it was a mystery. *cue laughter* My brain isn’t a plotting, mystery thinker. So…I relied on what I know. Creepy. As I thought about writing a mystery, I focused on ghosts, for the mysteries that catch my attention, the ones where I follow the clues and deduce the truth involve spirits. How they died. Why they continue to haunt the world. And how to free them. Which is how Within the Plum Attic came to be.
2. You usually write in first person, present tense, don’t you? What draws you to that? The immediacy. You are right there with that character as terrible events unfold and there is no escape. I love first present for my horror shorts. Because that deep POV, that feeling of no way out is very important to the creepy, scary vibe. Though I have written in third person, past tense, and the middle grade I’m working on now is third present.
3. You love horror. I know you go to every horror movie you can and host a twitter horror movie night for Midnight Society. Is that once a month? Can you tell us more about that? I haven’t been to a theater in such a long time. I miss it. And yes, I’m part of the writing team of the Midnight Society blog, which celebrates all things horror. Once a month I host Midnight Society Movie Night on Twitter, where I live-tweet a horror movie. Usually the last Friday of each month at 9 pm EST under #MidnightSocietyMovieNight. Pretty much, it’s me tweeting all my thoughts and reactions into the Twitterverse to entertain myself.
4. What are some of your favorite horror movies? Books? Oh. That’s a tough question. I love the range horror offers. The Elm Street series is fun. Freddy is one of my favorite slashers. But my very favorite movies involve ghosts and demons. Poltergeist. The Conjuring. Insidious. The Orphanage. IT. The Babadook. On the book side of horror, I love Stephen King, and The Shining will always be one of my favorites. Right now, I’m reading the middle grade horror series Lockwood & Co. and enjoying it immensely.
5. You also love YA. The twin girls who are the protagonists in your story are in high school. What draws you to YA? I hated being a teenager. It’s this awful place of trying to be yourself without having any idea how, existing between still believing in magic and moving into the land of being an adult, which no one wants to do. I like to tap into the part of teens that still believes, that doesn’t want to fully grow up, and maybe help them realize that they don’t have to…not completely.
6. Who are some of your favorite YA authors and their novels? Neal Shusterman is my very favorite YA author. His Unwind series is fantastic and will always be on the top of my list. I was hooked after reading his book Downsiders. A couple others that stand out are The Schwa was Here and Scythe. Holly Black’s Curse Workers series, Tithe, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, and co-wrote The Spiderwick Chronicles (middle grade) are all books I loved. Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds is a mighty fine read as well.
7. You have another short horror story due out soon. Would you share the particulars? My horror short “The Path” has been accepted into the Gothic Blue Book Vol VI: A Krampus Carol, which will be released October 31st! I am excited to be a part of this Krampus themed anthology with my interpretation of what happens after Krampus stuffs someone in his sack and carries them away.
8. Care to share your social media links with us? And thanks so much for visiting my blog. I like to haunt Twitter. Please come find me @KathleenPalm and say hi. I also have an author Facebook page (Kathleen Palm, @writerkathleenpalm), where I post things sometimes.
I have a short mystery in the anthology MURDER THEY WROTE. Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod have volunteered to renovate the kitchen, dining room, and half bath of a grand, old house for charity. The rooms are in much worse shape than they expected. But that’s not the worst of their problems. They meet Earnestine Peabody and quickly learn she’s constantly digging for dirt on their fellow designers:
They were gathered at the Formica table, drawing up plans, when a woman teetered into the room. She wore an aqua dress with a straight skirt and matching high heels. Her black, chin-length hair was crimped into elaborate waves, and her eye makeup was the same shade of aqua as her dress. Jazzi blinked, taken aback for a moment.
The woman gushed, “I’m Earnestine Peabody, the caterer for the house’s grand opening. I was so excited when Edmund told me you were here. Will the new kitchen have plenty of space for me to assemble and heat the food I’m preparing? I’m going to make lots of little finger foods to place around the ground floor of the house. Do you have any idea what your plans are for your rooms yet?”
Jerod had been sketching ideas as they brainstormed. He moved his drawings for her to see.
She clapped her hands. “Perfect! I can set finger sandwiches on the worktable in the kitchen. And I’ll put coffee urns and pitchers of lemonade on the countertops. The lavender and lemon refrigerator cookies can go on the dining room table.”
Ansel glanced at Jazzi and frowned. She knew that look. Her Viking was unimpressed. “Do you have treats for every room?”
“I’ll have dishes of party mix in the ballroom, popcorn in the billiard room, cheese and crackers in the lounge, and Rice Krispy treats in the library.” She beamed, pleased with herself.
“Silas must have given you a small budget to work with,” Jerod said.
Earnestine scowled at him. “What makes you think that?”
Her cousin realized his mistake too late. He scurried to redeem himself. “This is going to be a big event. No caviar? No shrimp cocktail?”
The caterer’s laugh tinkled. “We’re expecting far too many people for anything like that, silly.”
He nodded agreement. “Let’s hope so. The more visitors, the more profits for charities, right?”
“So true.” She touched his arm in a flirtatious way. “It’s going to be fun working with you, I can tell.”
Ansel squashed the smile that was starting, but his blue eyes glittered with laughter. Jerod threw a dirty look his way. No men were more married than the guys in their family and their friends.
“Well, I’ve bothered you long enough,” Earnestine said with another exaggerated smile. “I’m going to introduce myself to the other designers. And the adorable man who’s decorating the conservatory told me to pass along his salutations to you.”
“Did you get his name?” Jazzi asked.
“Reuben something, he said he’s known you for ages.”
Jazzi smiled. She should have known Reuben would be invited to share his expertise on this project. When she’d rented a ground floor apartment in West Central, he’d been her upstairs neighbor. His many clients never tired of singing his praises.
Earnestine cocked her head, obviously curious. “I’ve heard a few worrying rumors about him. Surely, they’re not true. He seems so charming.”
Jazzi’s hands went to her hips. “Whatever you heard, I wouldn’t believe it. I’ve known him a long time, and I admire and respect him.”
“But he does like his drinks, doesn’t he?”
“So what? He’s smart about it, never drinks and drives. And he doesn’t over indulge often, only when he can crash at a friend’s for the night.”
Earnestine pressed her red lips into a moue. “And he occasionally enjoys smoking? Pot, I mean.”
Jazzi stared at her, beginning to loathe the woman. “Are you trying to start trouble? I don’t like it when someone trash talks a friend.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I was just surprised when I heard that.”
“What’s it to you?” Ansel asked. “Who cares what someone does in private?”
Earnestine threw her arms in the air in surrender. “Reuben’s so lucky to have such staunch defenders. I beg your pardon. Let’s pretend this never happened.”
THE BODY FROM THE PAST comes out on Tuesday, Sept. 22nd. Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod have found a grand, old house to flip in a nearby town–Merlot, Indiana. They discover a locked room on the second floor–a young woman’s pink bedroom that hasn’t been disturbed for years. The house holds memories, and many of them aren’t happy. Here’s a snippet from the book. Leesa is Jazzi’s BFF from high school:
Leesa took an audible breath. “My Brett grew up in Merlot. That house holds horrible memories for him. Could you and Ansel come to supper here tomorrow night? Brett wants to invite his brother and his wife, too, so they can talk to you about it.”
Jazzi frowned at the phone. “They want to talk about the house? Are they upset that we’re renovating it?”
“No, nothing like that.” Another pause. “You haven’t heard?”
“Heard what?” What was the deal with this house anyway?
“Jessica Hodgkill lived there. Before high school graduation, during a party celebrating that she’d been named class valedictorian, she was pushed off the home’s balcony and died.”
Ansel’s expression went as dark as a raven’s wing. He gave Jazzi a look that said Don’t go there.
Jazzi took a long breath. “I’m sorry to hear that. We found Jessica’s hope chest in her upstairs bedroom. It was filled with all of her childhood memories.”
“If you look through any of it, you’ll learn that Brett’s brother was her date for the senior prom and the main suspect in her murder.”
A finger of dread slid down Jazzi’s spine. “Was his name cleared once the cops found her killer?”
“They never did, but they couldn’t prove Damian was guilty. Trouble was, he couldn’t prove he was innocent either. It ruined his life.”
Ansel glowered even more.
Jazzi wasn’t sure what to say. “I’m so sorry. That had to be awful for the entire family.”
“It was terrible for the whole town. People took sides. Brett always stood up for his brother and lost some good friends because of it.”
“Then they weren’t real friends,” Ansel said, joining the conversation for the first time.
“That’s what I told him. Anyway, can you two come tomorrow? We’d really appreciate it.”
I have a horrible writing habit. It’s just plain lazy, and my writer friends Kathleen Palm and Julia Donner tsk when they critique my work and say, “You can do better than ‘he shrugged,’ ‘she smiled,'” etc. And they’re right. But when I’m thinking about bringing scenes to life, and the scenes aren’t being very cooperative about it, sometimes tags and sentence structure are the LAST thing I think about. And sometimes, I obviously don’t think about them when I’m polishing either. Because, let’s face it, they’re there when my friends look at my work. And tsk.
I notice beautiful writing. I enjoy word play and clever sentences. Am I good at it? Only when I concentrate. And that doesn’t always happen. Mostly, I’m more anxious about getting my ideas on paper than on beautiful imagery, description, or language. BUT, I’m trying to change that.
For a while, I decided that if I read more poetry, flowing language would become natural to me. I’ve seen it work for some of my friends. But it didn’t happen for me. I tend to be a goal oriented person, and I think that shows up in my writing. I don’t want the words to get in the way. I’m trying to work on that, too.
Which is to say, sadly, that I’ve written for a long time, but I still, and probably will forever inspire to be better than I am now. Years ago, I had the deluded, happy thought that someday I’d learn all that I wanted to know about writing, and then everything I produced would match the quality standards I was hoping for. I can tell you, that hasn’t happened yet. I’m not sure it ever will. And for a long time, that bothered me. Now? I kind of like the idea. That means there’s always room to grow. And that’s okay for me. It would be nice to feel brilliant and sure of myself, but I don’t think that’s ever going to happen. So, when I start the next books I’m outlining right now, let’s hope my writing astounds you. And if it doesn’t, let’s just hope it doesn’t get in the way for the stories I’m trying to tell.
Welcome to another Book Review Tuesday. I have two five-star reviews to share today. Both of these books are wildly imaginative and engrossing from start to finish. If you enjoy ingenious fiction, you’re sure to love both of these!
H.M.S. Lanternfish Lanternfish Series Book 2 By C. S. Boyack
C. S. Boyack delivers another colorful adventure with HMS Lanterfish. I loved the first novel, Voyage of the Lanternfish, which introduced us to James—pirate captain Bloodwater—and his crew. The gang is back again (including the scene stealing root monsters), along with new characters, imaginative creatures, and plenty of action. James is drawn from a peaceful retirement to act as privateer for the war effort.
As always, Boyack delivers a story that brims over with adventure and explosive action. There are exploding monks (and that’s only part of the “explosive” action, LOL), a possessed weapon, a shogun, con artists, terrifying creatures, a…
C.S. Boyack wrote a short mystery for MURDER THEY WROTE that tickled my funny bone at the same time it had a great murder plot. I fell in love with his Jason Fogg and wanted to know more about him. So he agreed to a Q & A to satisfy my curiosity. Please welcome Craig to Mystery Musings:
I was thrilled for the invitation to submit to this anthology. I feel like I’m standing among giants here, and am truly honored.
When Judy asked me to participate, I couldn’t say “yes” fast enough. I’ve included some murders in my fiction, so I’m no stranger. Murder kind of has its own genres, but it also shows up in speculative fiction, like I write. My request was for a piece of science fiction to include in the book.
I was right in the middle of drafting two different novels, but anthologies have deadlines. I needed to restructure a few things, and needed a bit of luck. Luck showed up in the form of Jason Fogg, a character I have a long history with.
I think the idea of these author interviews are wonderful, and am excited to participate in these, too. I’ll let you learn more about Jason through Judy’s questions.
1. You wrote a speculative fiction story for the anthology MURDER THEY WROTE. Jason Fogg is your detective. You’ve written other stories featuring him, haven’t you? Would you tell us about them?
Sure. Jason started off as a supporting character, with a different name, in an old trunk novel of mine. There’s a reason it’s locked away in a trunk, but the character stuck with me. I finally decided to include his origin tale in a collection of short stories called, The Experimental Notebook of C. S. Boyack.
I always intended to keep these collections going, but haven’t had the time. If I ever get around to a third volume, Jason will get a place in it.
Then I came up with this almost paranormal superhero story. It proved to be my most popular work. A big part of its appeal is the corniness that went into it. I decided to turn this into a series. At about that time, theaters were bursting at the seams with superhero team-up adventures.
It seemed like a tongue-in-cheek way to do the same thing, but with the corniness of my series. My paranormal avenger needed some other characters to team up with, and Jason Fogg was first in line. If anyone is interested, that one is called Viral Blues.
2. I loved the relationship between Jason and Riley. His wife? I really liked her. Did he meet her in a former story? You gave a little of her background. Is there more?
Jason started out life as a bit of a pervert, to be honest. He misused his special abilities early on, but came to find a higher purpose. The target was always Riley, a cute redhead who worked at a chowder house Jason frequented along the Oregon coast.
They’ve developed a relationship across the stories, and even got married along the way. Riley probably gets more page time in Murder They Wrote than any other story so far.
3. Jason and Riley were gifted a house in this story. How did that happen? And why did you choose Seattle as the setting for From the Files of Jason Fogg?
With Jason popping up from time to time, he’s gained fans along the way. It’s important to keep some continuity to his bigger story. Believe me, you can jump right into Murder They Wrote and not miss a thing. The Seattle house is a nod to his longer term fans.
The nutshell version is that the secret society all my heroes were working for in Viral Blues paid the heroes off in different ways. The society occasionally cleans up haunted houses, and uses them to recruit observers into their programs. A couple of newlyweds needed a house.
Jason’s special abilities almost require him to live in a humid environment. Moving from the Oregon Coast to the Seattle area seemed to work, and it’s a bigger city for him to find more trouble in, should he get the call again some day.
4. How did Jason come by his special talents?
Maybe we should have asked this one first, but here’s the deal. Jason has the ability to dissolve into fog and reconstitute at will. He can fly along in his cloud form, but not like Superman or anything. He’s a cloud, so it’s kind of deliberate and slow. It’s also handy for slipping through keyholes and window screens as he’s trying to solve a mystery.
Jason was on a crew that strung high-tension powerlines from the hydroelectric dams in Oregon. It was just before dawn on a night the fog was so thick you couldn’t see a thing on the ground. It was clear up on the poles, and the fog spread like a blanket beneath him when he started his shift.
That was when a bit of NASA debris decided to crash back to Earth. There was a growth on the outside, and it puffed up like dough in a hot oven during re-entry. This debris clipped the power line a few miles from him, and a charge travelled along the wire.
Jason was instantly evaporated and dissolved into the fog bank below him.
5. I really enjoyed the humor in your story. A few of the drawbacks of being Jason Fogg made me chuckle. Can you share them?
I don’t like superheroes that are too super. I’m down for special abilities all day long, but not to the point that my heroes don’t have to try.
When Jason fogs out, it’s just him. No clothes, no hair products, not even after shave. I never did buy the heroes who also turn their clothing invisible and such. So Jason has a bit of a problem when it’s time to reform.
He has to reform to accomplish much of anything. He can’t even turn pages without reforming. About the only thing he can do is fog glass and leave messages. Other than that, he has to take physical form to do anything.
He’s become a regular at Goodwill and keeps a stockpile of clothing he can plant nearby the places he’s working.
I admit to turning more to humor in the last few years. I believe even the most serious story can benefit from a light moment, but you have to keep that tension on simmer. Jason’s “limitations” give me the opportunity to have a laugh or two at his expense sometimes.
Would you share your media links with us? Anything else you’d like us to know? And thanks for visiting my blog.
I’m thrilled for the invitation, and hope the interview nudges a few people to give Murder They Wrote a chance.
I’m a little obsessed with plotting. And there are LOTS of ways to do it. Some people don’t need to do it at all–I’m jealous. But for me? I need all the help I can get to keep words and ideas moving for a 70,000+ book.
After all these years of writing, I still like to read about the CRAFT of writing off and on, just to keep me on my toes. And hopefully, my writing will keep getting better. I still have flaws, and I know it. So does my writers club:) For new ideas, I recommend Story Empire: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/08/28/nutshell-catch-point-no-return/Staci Troilo is writing about plotting on that site right now–a method I’ve never heard of–the Nutshell Method.
For a long time now, I’ve divided my books into four parts with a plot point twist at the end of each one. Once I know those twists, I write plot points for every chapter in the book. And that’s worked for me, but I wanted MORE. I use a character wheel to develop important characters in the story, and that works really well, too. But…surely, there was something else to make my mysteries sharper? stronger? So I came with a list of questions to answer BEFORE I started work on my plot points. And boy, am I happy with what I came up with. I think I finally have a good balance. At least, for me. And mysteries. You might be able to fiddle with the questions for other genres, but since I don’t write those…well,…you’re on your own.
Anyway, I’m playing with an idea for a new cozy mystery. The premise popped in my head and wouldn’t leave. Kept bugging me. But that’s ALL that came to mind. So…syymied…I turned to my list of questions. Suddenly, suspects and witnesses filled my head, the victim ended up as the dead body she deserved to be, and my series characters flexed their muscles and showed their true selves.
If you’re writing a mystery and would like to try the questions, here they are:
Who is killed (at least, the first person) or what is the crime?
Who commits it? And how? (step by step so no holes or confusion)
WHY Is it committed?
Who are the suspects and why? (At least two, more’s better)
Any witnesses? Does someone see something that looks suspicious? Any innocent bystanders?
What’s the ending? (I always know this before I write)
Any special clue or red herring? Any alibis or fake alibis? Accusations? False arrests?
A subplot (something going on with a character other than the crime)
A smaller subplot.
These questions helped me. Doesn’t mean they’ll work for you. But whatever method you like, happy writing!