How much is too much?

I’ve been blogging three times a week lately, and to be honest, I’ve gotten tired of hearing myself. So, I’ve decided to cut back. I’m going to try to blog on Sundays and Thursdays. At least, that’s my goal. Occasionally, if one of my books goes on sale or something special happens, I’ll mention that, but otherwise, I’m going to try not to pester you so much.

For a while, I posted book reviews once a week, and I’m still going to post those on BookBub and Goodreads, but not on my blog. Why? I’m beginning to think that, as a writer, I’m pickier about some things than I should be. I get ouchy about things most readers take in their stride. But if I don’t say anything, I don’t feel like I’m being fair either. On the whole, if a writer’s put a lot of work into a book, and it shows, I tend to maybe rate them higher than some readers would, because I can’t make myself ignore how much blood, sweat, and tears went into the manuscript. And often, I rate a book on my overall impression of it, not on flaws that threw me. If I enjoyed reading it and didn’t stop, I’ll probably give it four stars just because it gave me three or more pleasant evenings. If a book’s three stars or lower, I probably won’t finish it, so won’t review it. I’ll mention things that bothered me in a review, but overall, I might still have really liked the book, regardless. So, I’m not sure that my reviews are all that helpful.

When I learn something from a book, that’s another matter. For instance, I’m reading another Louis Kincaid right now. An Unquiet Grave. And once again, I’m in awe of how well the characters are done. So well done, I’m paying attention to how P.J. Parrish makes them come to life in so few words. It’s ALL showing and no telling. I love it. Also, I’ve been wondering how she chooses such dark topics, but they never feel overdone or stuck in for shock value. The two sisters are darn fine writers, and I wish I could learn some of their techniques.

Anyway, I’m hoping I can keep thinking of things that are interesting for my blogs, but it’s hard to concentrate on writing every single time. If anyone has any questions about writing or my books or cooking, please feel free to ask. I might have an answer:) I’m finally starting to get back on a sort of routine after everyone came to celebrate the holidays a little later than usual, and I’m working with more distractions than usual, but I’m making progress on my new series idea. I hope you’re making progress, too.

Happy Writing!

Is it really smart to do this?

When I write a Jazzi and Ansel novel, I try to keep the characters and their relationships moving like they might in real life. I had Jerod and his wife Franny have a third child a few books ago. I had Walker and Didi have a double wedding with Olivia and Thane. Then Walker and Didi had a little girl. Olivia and Thane decided they’d rather get a new dog and install a pool instead of having kids.

Ansel’s been honest about wanting kids eventually, and Jazzi’s been putting it off. But she’s getting close to the big 3-0, so near the end of book 7, she surprised me when she told him that he could toss her birth control pills, that she was ready to start a family. When it happened, I felt all warm and fuzzy inside. I know Jazzi and Ansel will be great parents. But once I finished the first draft of the book, I panicked. How the heck am I going to pull off Jazzi flipping houses and solving mysteries while she changes diapers? I know lots of women work, but Jazzi’s always running short of time doing what she does. Something has to give. Doesn’t it?

How long can you climb ladders and put new roofs on houses before you get too big to be safe? HH and I used to watch Rehab Addict, and Nicole Curtis was showing quite a bit while she filmed one season, so I know it can be done. But I’m sure there are limits to how much you can lift, etc. And won’t Ansel demand Jazzi be more careful when she gets involved in solving a murder, since he’ll be thinking even more about her safety?

I have doubts about how I’m going to work pregnancy into a mystery plot, but I didn’t change the storyline. I let Ansel throw away the pills, even though I’m not sure that’s a good idea–for me–as a writer. But I’ve decided to find answers as I go instead of making the series hover in the same static spot indefinitely. Some writers do that and they make it work. Their characters never age. They hardly change at all. Only the mysteries they’re involved do. But I want Jazzi and Ansel to go on with their lives. I doubt I’ll still be writing about them twenty years from now, so they won’t need walkers or false teeth before I finish their last book. But how true does a writer stay to real time? In lots of series, the characters age, but VERY slowly. I’m all right with that.

For now, I’m just taking Jazzi and Ansel one step at a time. And in book 8, she’ll probably be expecting. I’m going to make her like me. She’ll just get healthier the bigger she gets. No morning sickness. No aches or pains. And my bowling score kept getting better the more I showed. Elspeth isn’t as lucky. She’ll be more like my close friend. She’ll have trouble keeping her breakfasts down. Jazzi won’t rush to the hospital until book 9, and I’m not sure if she’ll have a boy or a girl. I have lots of time to decide. And she might stay home with her new baby during book 10. Who knows? That’s in the distant future, too.

At the moment, though, I just know her and Ansel’s lives are going to get a lot busier. And that’s part of life, too, isn’t it?

Any thoughts on keeping series real? Or not?

Happy Writing!

Series

I’ve been fizzling on some of my favorite TV series lately. I hope it’s temporary and eventually something pulls me back into the storylines, but for now, I’m avoiding them and trying new shows to find something HH and I like.

We liked Longmire for a few seasons, but the angst lately is getting to us. Too Much Angst. I know the advice is to always pile on the conflict, to have one problem after another and if you can add internal conflict on top of that, so much the better. I feel buried under an avalanche of troubles. Maybe if just one person at a time had to struggle with something, it wouldn’t be so bad. But EVERY single person is struggling with something. I can’t take it. I’m MIA.

On the flip side, HH and I enjoyed watching Shakespeare and Hathaway, but some of the shows we’ve watched recently have gotten so frivolous, we’ve turned that off, too. And then there’s Doc Martin. In the beginning, we loved it. Yes, the doc was eccentric to the extreme, but there were scenes that showed his soft side, his caring. Not so much lately. Louisa has had his baby, and all he does is complain about the inconvenience of losing sleep and how much the baby’s crying interferes with his office hours. Ugh. I hope to try him again later, but at the moment, I just want to shake him and tell him to grow up!

In the meantime, we’ve found the Dr. Blake mysteries that take place in Australia, and we’re enjoying those. We found McDonald and Dodds, too, with the sly dynamics of a ambitious detective who wants to get ahead teamed with a partner who first comes off as a bumbler, but is actually a genius. Fun so far.

When I watch TV, it makes me think about book series and writing. What works, what doesn’t. And I know everything is personal, but it’s easy to watch shows and decide what I like about them and what I don’t. It’s easy to see someone else’s mistakes, isn’t it? Not so easy to see our own. So, I’ll keep my fingers crossed and try to find a middle ground with more balance. Problems, but not too many of them. Humor but nothing too forced or far-fetched. And a protagonist I want to hang around with.

And maybe in winter, when the doldrums set in, I’ll be ready to return to the series that I enjoyed for quite a while. Maybe they’ll entertain me again.

JUST DO IT!

I’m writing this on December 22nd and posting it as a future post, so HOPEFULLY, I’ll have book 7’s first draft finished by the time you read this. But I wanted to write to you while I’m in the middle of my ich mood, to let you know that sometimes sitting at your computer and hitting the keys JUST SUCKS. It took every ounce of discipline I have to make me pound out four chapters this week when I felt I had NOTHING.

It happens to me somewhere in every book. Usually in the third quarter, but this time, because I wrote out 42 plot points, the third quarter went by without a hitch. But then I realized instead of writing chapters that were at least ten pages long, I’d scrimped on too many of them and only come up with 7 pages over and over again–because let’s face it, I’m no whiz kid at description or internal dialogue or using lots of words to write a scene instead of a few–and I didn’t have enough happening in the storyline to finish the book. I only need 70,000 words. That’s in my contract. 70,000 words. If they ever change it to 80,000, I’m going to cry. And yes, I know, some of you vomit out 100,000 words routinely and have to pare them down. But I’m not that author.

ANYWAY, I hit a wall. Like I always do. And I wrote short stories to stall instead of working on my book. Like I always do. (Don’t do as I do. Do as I say. If I ever say anything helpful or intelligent.) Anyway, while I was beating my head against a wall, a new idea came to me that added a new chapter. And then, while I was writing that chapter, I thought of two more. And all of a sudden, I have enough words to finish the darn book. Which at this point in time, for me, is more of a bother than a joy. But at least I know now how to finish it AND have enough words.

But, this is a long way of saying that writing is NOT always fun. There are times it’s the most wonderful thing in the world. And there are days, sometimes weeks, when I cringe every time I think of my book. None of that matters. What matters is finishing it, and when it’s finally done, it’s a relief. Not always a joy. It’s according to how much blood, sweat, and tears went into it. But it feels good. Fulfilling. The book’s done. And I usually like it at this point.

BUT, here’s the thing. Even when I hate my book and I want to do ANYTHING but write it, I still get immense satisfaction when a scene turns out well, when a character surprises me, or when I feel particularly clever. And none of that would happen if I didn’t sit down and write when I really didn’t want to. No job is always gratifying. I was a teacher for six years, and there were days when I wanted to pull my hair out and admit defeat. I swear if you could pound a funnel into a kid’s head and pour knowledge into it, some kids would regurgitate it. Just because. I worked as a waitress and a grocery check-out girl during college, and there were good days and bad days. That’s life. But I just dusted myself off and went back to work the next day. Same with writing.

Just Do It. Some days are great. Some days aren’t. And some days, you just have to slog through it. No fairies come to finish a book you’ve started. There will be times when life interferes. A lot. Years when your battery’s so low, it’s hard to be creative. But life doesn’t give you any guarantees. And sometimes, you just have to suck it up and JUST DO IT. Hopefully, that doesn’t happen often. And let’s hope in 2021, the planets align to make us all merry. But if not, hit those keys anyway. And happy writing!

Jazzi Zanders #6

Jazzi and her sister Olivia couldn’t be more different. Jazzi prefers a hammer to a blow drier. She flips houses with her cousin Jerod and her husband Ansel. Olivia went to cosmetology school, then started working at her mom’s beauty parlor and eventually became a partner with her. Olivia travels to Chicago twice a year to buy the latest fashion trends. Jazzi goes to Olivia’s shop to get her hair trimmed when it’s absolutely necessary. She usually wears her honey-blond hair in a ponytail to keep it out of her face while she installs floors and drywall. But when Olivia’s scissors are found buried in the new hairstylist she and her mom hired at their shop, Jazzi is the first person to leap in to help her.

But one mystery isn’t enough. Just as Jazzi starts digging into who might want Misty dead (and there’s a long list of suspects), her ex-fiancée calls her, worried because his wife has gone missing. Chad and Jazzi had a not-so-pleasant break-up because he was so controlling, and Jazzi would like to believe him when he swears he’s changed. But has he? And where IS his missing wife? The police suspect foul play.

THE BODY IN THE BEAUTY PARLOR comes out March 2nd and is available for pre-order now. 100 copies are up for grabs on a Goodreads giveaway, too.

Welcome, 2021

I’m an astrology junkie. I read Oscar Cainer’s horoscopes almost every day. I think of them as my daily devotionals, because it comforts me to think that God has a grand design in mind for each of us before we’re even born, sort of the like the Greek Fates who weave our fortunes before we come into the world. I wrote a book about that a long time ago–the book that helped me find my wonderful agent, Lauren Abramo–Fabric of Life, under the name Judith Post. https://www.cainer.com/daily-horoscope/

I also read Susan Miller’s Astrology Zone at the beginning of every month, and she explains that at the end of December 2020, remarkable events happened in the sky. Events that, if you read the December posts, are far-reaching and will change things up for a long time. The Age of Aquarius is beginning. If you’re as old I am, you’ll remember the song by The Fifth Dimension. An exciting prospect. Life should start to get better. https://www.astrologyzone.com/

And that’s what I’m wishing for all of you. A wonderful 2021.

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

It’s Alive

My friend and critique partner, M.L. Rigdon’s new book comes out tomorrow, and she teased us with a short story on her blog today. It’s a good one!

historyfanforever

It’s been months since doing anything with this blog. What with movie theaters shut down, there’s not much in the way of films to review, so I’ve been writing. The second book in a my newest fantasy series, Seasons of War, comes out tomorrow. This is a short story from that world. The character was inspired by my son, who passed unexpectedly, in September. The book released tomorrow, Out of the Sea, is dedicated to him.

Revenge and Remembrance

Voxel polished his mother’s armor, smoothing the soft cleaning cloth over the chest plate. He’d had to alter the buckles and straps for it to fit him. It hadn’t been difficult. She’d been a tall woman, more muscular than he was, but he’d inherited her long limbs, stubbornness, and hot temper. Since she wasn’t alive to show his affection, he cared for her armor, proud of the Calvary insignia, her…

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Resolutions

It’s that time of year again. Looking back at 2020. Maybe not the best year, but it had some good moments, too. It’s been tough going. No restaurants for us except take-out. And I MISS going out. We hardly go anyplace anymore. We even do most of our grocery shopping with our store’s click-it list and just pick up what we ordered. We’re becoming hermits, might not be able to socialize again.

Besides Covid restrictions, my sister died late May, and HH and I spent a lot of time helping my second sister empty her house. Mary did all of the sorting through things, because she and Patty were close, and Mary didn’t want to throw away anything that was important to her. We were just heavy labor and back-up, but that still took a lot of time. Mary hates to cook, so I’ve tried to send her enough leftovers to keep her from eating a deli sandwich at every meal. Between helping and cooking, we got to see a lot more of her and my cousin (who lives with her) than usual. When crying jags hit, I freed time to listen to her and be there. It made us closer. Nice during Covid.

Another nice thing? I hosted my writers’ club at my house once we were allowed to have meetings again. That way, we could catch up with each other and support each other. But we had to skip our Christmas carry-in when Covid numbers rose again. Sigh. I’m hoping we can get together sooner rather than later next year.

Near the end of the year, our grandson got out of the marines, and we got to see him once before he and his brother caught Covid from going out together to catch up. They’re young. A good thing. And they’ll be healthy again in time. Then we plan to have our Christmas get together in early January. Better late than never, right?

And January leads us into 2021. And maybe vaccines. The sooner, the better. And maybe we can see more people again. And go places. And do things. And that brings me to my resolutions for the new year.

  1. I want to find more balance in my life. I love writing, but I’ve done a lot of it lately. There are other things I want to work into my regular routine, as well. I bought an exercise mat–and I use it when I don’t sit down at my computer and get hooked on writing first. So for 2021, I need to exercise FIRST, then write. I want to take the dog for walks at the end of my writing time each day (when there’s no ice or snow drifts), and I want to be outside more. I’ve been especially bad this year. I don’t stop what I’m working on so I can sneak in more pages. I need more pages, but I need sunlight, too. So, in 2021, I stop writing and start walking. And I want to NOT write or work on my computer on weekends. You can see a common thread here. Less time on the computer, and more time OUTSIDE of my office.
  2. I want to start a new mystery series with a new protagonist, and I want to make her pricklier than usual. She’s been calling to me since early summer, to the point that I made character wheels for most of the main characters and did plot points and even wrote a few chapters to see if I liked them. I did. I know some writers can balance lots of different series, but I’m not sure I can. I’m not a fast writer. I just write a lot. I’ll have some tough decisions to make if I really like Karnie and her story lines.
  3. I want to have more fun this year. Maybe a few short trips instead of one longer one. Maybe weekend trips where we just spend one night somewhere. (I know. After Covid). I want to spend more time in my flower beds, walking in the wonderful parks we have around town. Seeing friends. Just…MORE.

And you know what? Once I finish this book and start the next one, and once everything gets busy again like it usually does, if I don’t accomplish these goals…that’s all right. Because I have a pretty great life, as is, and I know it. So whether you make resolutions this year or not, I’m still wishing you a great 2021. Stay healthy and good luck! And happy writing!

Advice? Do I have any?

The young girl who lives across the street from us writes. Her dad’s so proud of her. She brushes it away. A brainy kid. A little private. Prickly. I like her. Her dad knows I’m a writer, asked me to sign one of my books for her. The two of them came over with a poinsettia plant for us in early December and he asked, “Any advice you can give Bailey?” And the only thing I could think of right away was “Keep writing. Do it for the love of it.”

After they left, I thought of what else I could have told her, but she’s young. She doesn’t need to be bogged down with a lot of details of how to write a story or a book. Show don’t tell. Hooks. Goal, motivation, conflict. For right now, she just needs to let her imagination flow. The only other advice I wish I’d have thought of was–READ. Anything that speaks to you. It doesn’t matter if it’s comic books or the Bronte sisters. Read what feeds your soul and calls to you.

If I were to give advice to any beginning writer, no matter the age, I think I’d tell them the same thing. There’s no better escape than reading or writing. Do it because you want to, because you love it. Now, once a writer gets serious and decides he or she might want to sell what they write, things change up a bit. They did for me. All of a sudden, you want to do it RIGHT. That’s when I bought Jack Bickham’s book to teach me the basics. I gave that book, that I’d kept for years and years, to one of my grandson’s friends who was serious about writing a fantasy. And he’d come to visit me once in a while to ask me about this or that, and we’d talk writing for a while. I like that kid, too. He’s moved now, but I wonder occasionally if he’s still writing. I hope so, but once you want to sell, it’s time to change things up and get down to the nitty gritty. What did I tell him?

  1. Be true to yourself. Never lose the joy of writing. Because eventually, it gets hard. It’s easy to get discouraged. But if you still hit those keys because telling a story excites you, you can persevere.
  2. Learn the basic rules of writing so that you know them. Grammar. Structure. Spelling. And then if you break a rule, it’s because you meant to. If you’re writing your book in first person, you can’t change POVs on a whim and pop into someone else’s mind or know what they’re thinking. Even though I’m reading a famous writer who just did that in the book I’m reading. But there’s the rub. She’s a famous writer. She can break the rules and get away with it. Beginners probably won’t get that lucky.
  3. The book has to be about SOMETHING. It can’t just be thoughts that wander around page after page. It helps if it poses a big question at the beginning of the story and doesn’t answer it until the end. But I’ve read books that do just that. They wander aimlessly from page to page. And when I do, I never pick up that author again.
  4. My other advice? Write what you love to read. If you love thrillers, write a thriller. If you love fantasy, too, try writing that. And if you get stuck, then try writing something you’re NOT as comfortable with, something you’ve only read a few of. But KNOW the genre you want to write. If you read a few of them, you get the idea of how they work, what readers expect. One of the best things that ever happened to me was when my agent asked me to write a romance. I felt like she’d hit me in the head with a two by a four. I’d never, ever considered writing one before. But those six books taught me so much. I had to concentrate on hinging scenes on misunderstandings, unspoken words, hidden feelings, and relationships when I’d mostly concentrated on clues and plots before. So, once in a while, if you’re mired down, stretch yourself and write something out of your wheel box–maybe just in short story form. And if you do that, you’ll learn your limitations, too. I will forever suck at writing horror. And believe me, I’ve tried.
  5. The internet is full of sites with advice on how to improve your skills. There are myriads of books, too. I read Story Empire three times a week because each writer there tries to give good, solid writing posts, like this one by C.S. Boyack: Turmoil | Story Empire (wordpress.com) I’ve written for a long time. Do I need this advice? I sure do. It makes me think craft and reminds me to pay attention. I hope my writing keeps improving for the rest of my life.

My last advice? JUST WRITE. The longer you do it, the better you’ll get. But never lose the joy of it. Keep challenging yourself to be better, but enjoy that, too. So, ending this year and going into 2021, HAPPY WRITING!

Happy Holidays!

Our daughter from Indianapolis has to work Christmas Eve and doesn’t get off until 3:30 a.m. Christmas day. Such is the life of a nurse. Our grandson and his wife will go to his wife’s family’s Christmas celebrations on Christmas day, and then they and our other grandson will drive up to stay with us on Saturday and Sunday, and we’ll have our family celebration. All three kids have sworn to quarantine for two weeks before coming.

My sister, who’s a caretaker for my cousin with cerebral palsy, has to worry about Covid– a lot. My cousin wouldn’t survive it. So she’s not coming for the Christmas meal, but we’re all going to wear masks and wash our hands to go to her house for an hour with leftovers and to visit so that she’s not left out.

I’m expecting to have a happy holiday. And this year, with all its craziness, I’m wishing the same to all of you, even if you don’t celebrate Christmas. Wishing you happy holidays!