Hooks

I’ve been playing around with the idea of trying a serialized novel for Amazon’s new Kindle Vella program. If I try it, I’d put up one chapter a week for a Muddy River short novel. I used to post free chapters on my old Weebly site, but it got to be so much work, I had to give it up, even though I really enjoyed it. But I can only write so many words, and I ran out of time to post free pieces week after week and still finish novels in any decent length of time. I’ve already written nine chapters of SUMMER SOLSTICE RETRIBUTION, (my working title. It might change), so I’d have a little head start to give myself a safety net to meet a once a week deadline.

Writing a book, knowing it will be a week between one chapter and the next, has made me keenly aware of hooks and cliff hangers. I know that when you write ANY novel, you’re supposed to end each chapter with a hook, trying to entice the reader to start the next few pages in the next chapter, so that they never put the book down. I understand the concept, but the truth is, I read at the end of each day, and when the clock strikes midnight, I hardly ever have the energy to start a new chapter. But still, a great hook does make me more ready to pick up the book a little earlier the next night to see what happens. With a week between the chapters? I’m thinking I’d better have something decent to pull the reader back into the story. I’d better have good hooks and cliffhangers.

I have to admit that, in general, when I’m reading a series, I hate it when an author ends a book with a cliffhanger. It feels like a cheap gimmick to make me read the next book. It usually has the opposite effect for me. I no longer trust that author to deliver a satisfying ending on the new book either. I’m a no sale. But Vella is different. It’s ONE novel that’s serialized, so the ending should wrap up the story.

There’s no guarantee that Vella is going to be a success. There’s no certainty that readers will be attracted to Muddy River, but the idea appeals to me, so I think it’s worth a shot. I have an idea for a cover. If readers like it, Muddy River’s fun for me to write. So why not? I think Vella’s supposed to start this summer. I need to make up my mind whether to load my story or self-publish it as a regular short novel. Honestly, I’ve been so busy, I haven’t taken the time to decide. But I need to. In the meantime, I came up with two ideas for a cover. I’ve changed the title a little since I created them. Which do you like best? Or should I keep trying?

witch or no witch? Let me know what you think.

Your Second Book Is Probably Better

Every time I write a first book in a series (and I’m writing one now), it’s a rush. Everything’s exciting. New characters. New setting. Establishing a tone and voice, a certain “feel.” With Jazzi, I wanted the feel to be cozy and family, as much about the characters as the mystery. With Laurel, it’s more straightforward–Laurel and Nick trying to find a killer. The mystery takes center stage and the characters are supporting actors. But every fiber of my little writer brain is engaged when I write a first in a series. And I’m holding my breath to see if readers like it as much as I do. Even if I get everything right, though–and how many times does that happen?–I think that usually, the second book is better.

And I’m not just talking about my own books. I love reading series. I like revisiting the same characters that I grew fond of in the first novel, the same world, the same type of set-up with a new twist for the new book. Visiting the second or third time is almost always better. Why? It’s fun to see the characters grow, to watch them interact. I get to know them better. The setting feels like home. I’m settling in.

Meeting a person who might become a friend is nice, but getting to know them is better. And that’s what happens with a series. One of my favorites, ever, is Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels, but the first book didn’t wow me. It was good. I liked it, but I almost didn’t buy book two. I’m so glad I did. Every book got stronger until the ending was like…wow! A lot of series are like that.

There are always exceptions. Every once in a while a first book is so wonderful, it’s hard to keep that kind of momentum going. Patricia Brigg’s first Mercy Thompson shifter novel was a knock-out for me. So was Elizabeth George’s Great Deliverance. Those books were so good, sometimes–for me–it’s hard to keep hitting that high of a standard book after book.

I’m always happy when I read a review of my Jazzi cozies and someone says, “the books keep getting better.” It makes me feel good, like my characters are coming to life. Part of it, I’m sure, is that I know the characters better the longer I write them. I try to keep that in mind when I start a new series and the first book keeps me turning pages but I want more. I tell myself, “Read the next book.” And that’s often when the writer hits his or her stride.

In contrast, I think there are some advantages to writing a series with recurring characters, but where the author features new ones in each book. For example, my friend Julia Donner writes Regency romances–The Friendship series. They’re all tied together by a group of friends who are close to each other, but each book features a different couple, following the bumpy path that leads to their romance. Writing a series like that lets an author relax into a familiar groove but still enjoy a fresh storyline with each book. That’s how I wrote my Mill Pond romances, using the same setting but introducing a different couple in each novel. Of course, when an author does that, old and loved characters don’t get to grow like they do when those characters are the protagonists every time.

When Ilona Andrews wrote the Kate Daniels series, she featured Kate and Curran along with a cast of minor characters who stepped on the pages along the way. Those minor characters grew in number the longer the series went, and we grew more attached to them. She used an overall series’ story arc. The big question was posed in book one, and wasn’t resolved until the last page of the last book. In her new Hidden Legacy series, she’s come up with a different rhythm. So far, she’s shortened the story arcs to three books for each sister, but the arcs are all tied together because of the sisters’ family. Each sister has a different magic ability. The oldest meets her romantic interest in book one, and they end up together at the end of book three. Then the next sister’s story starts. She meets Alessandro, and they become a couple at the end of her third book. The next novel hasn’t come out yet, but I’m hoping the third sister meets…. well you get the picture. Is it easier trying to keep the romance arcs contained to three books? I’m guessing it might be. But do you lose the intense closeness I felt for Kate, Curran, and minor characters when I stayed with them for ten books and several short stories? You bet.

Is one better than the other? I don’t think so. The advantage of having the same protagonists in every book is that they grow and we become more attached to them. Using new protagonists in familiar settings has the advantage of keeping a series fresh. It doesn’t get stale. Ilona Andrews came up with a hybrid where she uses the same protagonists for three books, then switches to new ones in the same setting for three more, etc. They all work. Does one of them suit you? Are you a fan of one more than another? Or do you prefer standalones? Share your thoughts….

No Wonder People Don’t Plot

I love writing. I have to keep reminding myself of that. Sometimes, it’s a pain in the you-know-what. Some days, I don’t want to sit at my keyboard. Somedays, the words don’t flow. And before I start a new book, I always have to plot the darn thing . And right now, that’s making my brain tired.

Amazon announced a new thing they’re starting this summer–serialized novels. The idea appealed to me, because for a long time, when I used to have a weebly webpage, I posted free stories and books on it–one chapter at a time. It was always a little dicey, because every once in a while, I got behind and then had to come up with a chapter at the last minute. Probably not my best writing. But I finished novellas that way, then I took them down and polished them, and published them. That’s when I was having fun with the Babet and Prosper series under Judith Post. I posted a witch novel, foo, The Familiars, that way. I loved writing series, and those stories are what prompted me to write Muddy River. Every once in a while, I still crave a supernatural fix.

Now, when I used to read one of my supernatural fantasies to my writers’ group, I always got the same comments. “That was fun, and I’m sure someone wants to read it, but I never have. I’m not sure how to comment.” LOL. No surprise there. My group is pretty serious. Literary. Historical. Thrillers. Weighty novels. Alliteration and lyrical. Werewolves and witches? Not so much.

BUT…if Amazon is going to do serial novels, my mind immediately went to Muddy River. And…since my discipline isn’t what it should be…I have to try one. BUT, and this is the problem…l can’t make sure I have enough of a story without plot points. UGH!!! So I’ve been beating away on them for a week. A WEEK! And this is a short novel.

I admire Craig Boyack. He’s found a way to conjure story ideas with a storyboard. He’s written about it on Story Empire: Expanding on living documents | Story Empire (wordpress.com) I’ve tried it, and it works if I start WAY ahead and keep reminding myself to add to it. But unfortunately, I usually end up cussing and fretting, trying to write however points I need in a few days. Because I want to start the story, but I don’t want to go in the wrong direction. And that’s what I’ve been doing this week. A lot of fussing to come up with enough plot points to make a good story for a serial.

They trick you, you see. An idea springs into your mind and looks wonderful, like so much fun, you can’t NOT want to write it. So you start whipping out ideas for it, but the ideas begin to get harder and harder to come by, and how do you wrap them up? How do you make them build into a rhythm and crescendo at the right points and coalesce into a story? That’s when I start cussing. And finding things I have to do–like clip my toenails. Anything to avoid plot points. But if I stick with it, (and I try not to), I eventually end up with a halfway decent outline (of sorts) for a story.

Not everyone wants to bother with this. And I don’t blame them. Like I said. It’s a pain! But I need it. I’ve learned that the hard way. Some people can fly by the seats of their pants. Some people do journals. Or storyboards. Or humongous character studies. Whatever works for them. Me? I finally finished my plot points, and I’m going to go celebrate, because whenever I finish them, I feel like I’ve survived a tsunami. I’VE DONE IT! THEY’RE DONE. And life is good now. Until I have to start writing them and making them come to life. We’ll talk about that some other day…..

Are blue witches more appealing than green?

I invited Kyra Jacobs back to my blog to talk more about her book BLUE MANHATTAN. You see, she writes fantasy in between sweet romances to have a little creative fun. That’s why I write the Muddy River series. There’s nothing like a witch to perk things up a bit. My Hester is plenty powerful. So is Kyra’s Shay Tempest. But is she powerful enough to save herself and her sister from the erlking who wants Shay back? Have I mentioned that Shay is blue? And she purposely chose that color because Mauricio liked her better when she was green? Ah, well, I’ll let Kyra take it from here and tell you a little about the book herself:

Last month I released BLUE MANHATTAN, a fantasy romance and my tenth novel (wow, it still feels awesome to type that!) And while all my published books so far have centered around relationships and romance, BLUE MANHATTAN was a little different than the rest.

Ok, so it was a LOT different than the rest. But that was actually my intent.

See, instead of it being a sweet romance between the girl next door and the everyday great guy—which I also love to write—this time I wanted to have a little fun and see just how far my imagination could go. They say you’ve got to exercise muscles to keep them limber, right? Well, I think stretching your thinking and imagination is an important exercise as well. (So is dishing up your favorite flavor of ice cream, but I digress…) For this story, I decided to flip the everyday “meet cute” scene on its head. Literally.

In BLUE, the book opens in a bar whose patrons aren’t supposed to exist. At least, that’s what us humans have been led to believe. Goblins, witches, yetis, trolls, pixies, griffins—the list goes on. Let me tell you, I had so much fun researching mythical creatures for this book! But in the midst of all this supernatural “normalness”, who should come crashing in but a lowly human.

“We’ve got ourselves a crasher…”

Needless to say, Jamie Knight doesn’t initially believe what he’s seeing. In fact, he at first convinces himself that he’s stumbled into some ComicCon-type party with really legit costumes…until fighting breaks out, bones start cracking, and green goo starts flying.

Suddenly it’s every creature for themselves.

And who comes to his rescue? Shayla Tempest, the powerful blue bartender at McGronkle’s Supernatural Pub, planted smack dab in the center of all that chaos.

You see what I did there? Not only are humans at the disadvantage in this scenario, but I wrote in one helluva kickass heroine. I don’t generally write pushover heroines, mind you, but this one I wanted to empower with a little…more. And trust me—I gave her plenty of power. The struggle for Shay comes in learning to trust people again, something she’s got to conquer on the inside without her fancy magic.

Does she save the day instead of the hero at the end?

Guess you’ll just have to read it to find out. 😉 While you do that, I’ll be hanging out with the cast as I work on the next book in the Moonlight Mayhem series. Be sure to share your favorite mythical creature with me in the comments below, and happy reading, everyone!

BLUE MANHATTAN (Moonlight Mayhem, Book 1)

By Kyra Jacobs

Genre: Fantasy Romance

Length: 334 pages

Available on Amazon: bit.ly/BlueMZon21

Blurb:

Bartender Shayla Tempest wants nothing more than to stay out of trouble. Oh, and to kill the supernatural mob boss who’s stolen her sister. So, when Mauricio Hunter demands Shay deliver some “special package” in exchange for her sister’s life, this supe masquerading as a blue-skinned witch doesn’t hesitate to agree. Until, that is, she learns the package is one that’s completely off-limits for her kind: a human.

Computer programmer Jamie Knight just wants to finish debugging his latest app. But some douche bag named Mauricio has kidnapped his girlfriend, and now Jamie’s dodging dangerous mythical creatures in a race against time to pay her ransom. His only hope? One seriously stubborn witch who’s blue, scary powerful, and sexy as hell.

With an unexpected attraction brewing between them, this unlikely duo will break every rule in the supernatural underworld to complete their rescue mission. But something far more devious than kidnapping is on Mauricio’s true agenda, and the erlking will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Do Shay and Jamie have what it takes to thwart his plans without losing themselves—or each other—along the way?

Excerpt

Soap suds rose from the hot tub in the bar’s front corner, and distracted Shay from the fire water she’d been making. A lick of yellow bit her hand as she bobbled the glass, sending flames dancing across the bar top. Four nymphs sharing a nearby stool took wing to avoid the fiery cascade, a litany of curses filling the air. Shay cursed as well, reaching for a washrag to clean up her spill before it claimed any casualties.

“Dammit Floyd, what the hell are we paying you for?”

Their mile-high waste-of-fur bouncer perched beside the door bristled. “What’s your problem, Blue?”

Her cloth snagged on a crusty spot, and she lifted it to find a chunk of charred wing. Okay, strike that—claim any more casualties. She cast a dark look to the yeti. “You are. Thought you patted the water kelpies down when they were paying their cover?”

“I did.”

She tipped her head toward the growing mound of bubbles and Floyd’s gaze flicked toward the tub. With a muttered expletive, he slid off his personalized tree stump and strode toward the thickening scent of lavender. At ninety-five, the guy believed he was the best thing to come along since the invention of glamouring. Maybe in another hundred years, he’d lose the ego and Shay would be able to tolerate the pompous jerk.

No, probably not even then.

He had just made it to the kelpies when the front door burst open and a body stumbled through. A human body, judging by the way he was gasping for breath. Usually, they hit the wards and made an about-face. So far, this guy wasn’t that smart.

“We’ve got ourselves a crasher,” Milo crooned from a nearby booth, his scaly green lips drawing back to reveal teeth that desperately needed a good brushing. Like, a few decades ago.

The goblin slid his arm free of the drunken fae nestled beside him and started to rise. But a brawl was the last thing they needed tonight, especially with that package due to arrive from Mauri. Shay abandoned her washrag and strode forward, giving him a not-so-subtle shove down along the way.

“Keep your shirt on,” she said.

“But—”

“I said, keep your shirt on.”

She snapped her fingers, freezing the little bastard in place. Goblins—always trying to be the tough guys. Her spell wouldn’t hold him long, but it did allow her enough time to give their newcomer a onceover. He looked to be just over six feet tall, long and lean. Not overly muscular, but not an ounce of fat on the guy, either. Nothing she couldn’t handle if good old Floyd chickened out again. Why he got so nervous around humans was beyond her. This one’s dark hair was short on the sides and a little longer on top, just like all the pretty boys on posters in Time Square. As she stared, a pair of melted chocolate eyes began to scan the room.

Gods, he was repulsive.

“I’m looking for a woman.”

Snickering ensued as Shay continued forward, stopping before she emerged from the shadows. Best not to give him too big a fright, or their crasher would soon be a fainter. Fainters always made the griffins hungry, and she’d be damned if she was gonna jump in the middle of a herd of them to save clueless Joe Blow here.

“I think you’re lost, city boy,” she called. “Best turn around and head back to Upper Manhattan.”

He squinted in her direction and lifted one hand to shield his eyes from the entryway lights, a piece of crumpled paper in its grip. “Violet. I’m looking for Violet. They took her from me.”

His breathing was beginning to smooth; not a good sign. If he acclimated to the wards, he’d soon be able to see them all just as they were—a bar full of creatures he wasn’t supposed to know existed. Shay put a little more venom behind her words.

“Don’t know nothing about none of that. Now leave.”

The human unwadded the note in his hand. “No? Then how about a…Storm? She’s supposed to know where I can find her.”

Shay sucked in a sharp breath. Storm?

Oh, no. No, this guy could not be the package.

A human, Mauri? Are you out of your friggin’ mind?

“Ain’t got one of them neither,” she pushed. “Now scat.”

The newcomer squared his shoulders. “Well if they’re not here,” he said, voice rising above the bar’s standard bedlam, “then somebody better bring me that son of a bitch Mauricio Hunter. Right. Now.”

The entire tavern fell silent as every head turned to see what fool had said aloud the name of Antinomy’s most notorious mob boss. From the Barbie Dream House, cracking knuckles could be heard.

Then all hell broke loose.

Author Bio:

 Kyra Jacobs is an extroverted introvert who’s always called Indiana home, so she’s well-versed in fickle weather, pork tenderloins that don’t fit on a bun, and sarcasm. Putting her Indiana University degrees in Public Management to good use by day means Kyra does the bulk of her writing late into the night. Fueled by caffeine and funny memes, she weaves tales of love and relationships, including the humor and/or chaos both can bring. Kyra’s published novels range from sweet contemporary romance to romantic suspense and paranormal/fantasy.

When this Hoosier native isn’t at a keyboard, daydreaming through her fingertips, she’s likely outside, elbow-deep in snapdragons or on a sideline somewhere cheering (loudly) for her sporty sons. Kyra also loves to bowl, tries to golf, and is an avid college football fan. Be sure to stop by kyrajacobsbooks.com to learn more about her novels and ways to connect with Kyra on social media.

Connect with Kyra:

Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/KyraJacobsBooks

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/KyraJacobsBooks

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kyrajacobs_author/

Website:  http://www.KyraJacobs.wordpress.com

Goodreads:  http://www.goodreads.com/Kyra_Jacobs

My Writers Group

I hosted our writers’ club at my house today for the last time. When Covid hit, we lost our meeting room at the library and floundered for a few months. I still wrote, because. . . that’s what I do. It’s hard for me NOT to write. I feel lost, out of sync. And after a few days, HH says, “Wouldn’t you like to spend the day at your computer?” LOL. I’m a better person when I write.

When I talked to my writer friends, though, most of them weren’t putting words on the page. They use Scribes as their motivation. If they volunteer to be readers, they have to produce something to share. But we were all being careful, not going many places, wearing masks when we did, and only getting together with a few people we knew were being careful, too. So I talked to my husband, and he said, “Why not?” Then I invited my group to meet here. Now, when we met at the library, when the meeting was over, we went to The Tower Bar and Grill to yak with each other, or sometimes in the summer, we went to the Deck at the Gas House downtown. No restaurants were open because of Covid, so I decided to make food for my group. too.

The sad truth is that it takes more motivation for me to dust my house than to cook. Some of the members thought I was being a nice, wonderful person, but the truth is, I love to cook and I love to entertain. I had a new group of people to use as guinea pigs for new recipes I wanted to try. And the second and fourth Wednesday of each month became a lot of fun for me. I got to see my friends, talk writing, and try out new things. I loved it. I just never expected it to last as long as it did. I made shrimp pizzas, Cuban sliders, chicken quesadillas, and lots and lots of soups and salads.

But the library is finally opening up and letting people use meeting rooms again. It’s time for us to go back to the norm, even though the “different” was actually a lot of fun, and it made Covid a lot easier to deal with. The good news? People are making headway on their books. And I get to hear that progress, one chapter at a time. I’ve gotten to read a few times from my new mystery, and I’ve gotten a lot of encouragement. Not just because I feed my critics either. They’re too honest to bribe:)

Life is starting to get back to normal for us, and for that, I’m grateful. But I’m also really grateful for my writers’ group. I’ve heard horror stories about bad ones. I know they exist. I’ve heard of groups that only pat each other on the back, too, but we want honest feedback. I treasure my fellow writers. We encourage each other without pandering to lackluster writing, always prodding each other to do better. I honestly think we’ve all become darned good writers. The thing we’re not as good at is marketing and networking, but we’ll have to work on that at another time. We survived Covid, and that’s enough for now.

Nothing lasts forever. Things change. So who knows what the future holds? But for now, I’m grateful for Scribes. And I’m celebrating our local libraries being open again.

Memorial Day

When I was a kid, growing up, my parents loaded the trunk of our car with pots of geraniums and we went to plant one at every grave at every cemetery a close relative was buried at. It took most of the day, since a few were in small towns close by instead of in town,, and while my dad dug holes for my mom to pl;ace the geraniums in, my sister and I would run around the cemetery, chasing each other and having fun. When the trunk was empty and every grave was decorated, then we’d head downtown to Coney Island to eat hot dogs for supper. I can’t say it was one of my favorite days. It got pretty long after a while. But Mom and Dad were so happy with what they’d done, and we got to eat out (which we hardly ever got to do), so it was a meaningful day that ended well.

Once I grew up and got married, HH and I didn’t decorate graves for Memorial Day. But we bought an old bungalow on a street that our community uses for their Memorial Day parade. Cop cars and fire trucks line up and turn on their sirens to start off the celebration at nine a.m. You can’t sleep through the noise. (Though one time I tried. I had the flu and was miserable and cussed the parade more than it deserved). People line the sidewalks with lawn chairs, laughing and calling to each other. Two school marching bands are interspersed between floats, vintage cars, tractors, and horses. They make their way down the street, and people throw candy to the kids watching on the sidelines. Neighbors wave at each other and stop to talk once the parade is finished. And we end up with lots of small American flags to line the walk to our front porch.

For a long time, I didn’t value any of it. I enjoyed seeing people at the parade, but grumbled that I couldn’t sleep in. I wasn’t fond of visiting graves. After all, nobody’s there, just a plot of earth and someone’s remains in a box or urn. But since I’ve gotten older, I like cemeteries–quiet places that hold memories. They even make me think about people I’ve never met. I read dates, like 1873-1875 and think about a small child who had a short life. Sometimes, five or six people in a family die near the same time, and I imagine there was a disease. I read the words “Loving mother” or “Taken Too Soon” and conjure stories and images to go with them. And I see the military gravestones of soldiers and think about which war they died in. (In old cemeteries, there are many, many of them).

I knew that Memorial Day was important to my parents, but I never fully understood why. Now, I do. I still don’t decorate graves, but now I visit them. And they help me see myself as part of a long line of history and people. And that feels good. I understand why people are interested in genealogy these days. It’s nice to feel that you’re part of something. It’s nice to know your roots. They help you understand yourself a bit better.

However you celebrate (or don’t celebrate) Memorial Day, I hope you have a nice one. Family, picnics, grilling out, relaxing…whatever. Enjoy the last day of May. And have a great June!

Fiction Book Reviews by Mae: A Cut Above by Judi Lynn @judypost, Lunar Boogie by C. S. Boyack @Virgilante #bookreviews

Mae Clair was kind enough to review A CUT ABOVE on her blog today. She writes for the Story Empire blog, too, and gives great writing advice there. I always enjoy her book reviews and end up adding more books to my TBR list. She’s also a wonderful writer. I’ve read many of her books, but her Hode’s Hill series is probably my favorite. I loved it.

From the Pen of Mae Clair

Cute striped kitten with open book and eyeglasses lying on white bed

Thanks for joining me for another day of book reviews. I have two fantastic indie releases to share, each part of a series. The first is the debut release for the Karnie Cleaver series, while the second is book number four in the popular Lizzie and the Hat adventures. Obviously Karnie can be read as a standalone, since the series is just starting, but the Hat can as well. Mystery and adventure can be found in both camps!

BOOK BLURB:

Karnie works in her family’s butcher shop. When Donna Amick stalks to the meat display case and tries to pressure her to leave the family business to work for her, Karnie turns her down, flat. But Donna doesn’t like to take “no” for an answer. The next morning, Donna’s body is found behind A Cut Above with a meat cleaver embedded in the back of her head. Detective Carmichael’s top…

View original post 856 more words

A long snippet

In A CUT ABOVE, Karnie agrees to meet Donna Amick’s brother, Duncan, at a bar to try to learn who might have killed Donna. The bar’s on the rough side, though, so her brother, Chuck insists on going with her. But he gets sick and asks his friend, Matt, to go in his place:

Matt was doing her a favor.  Actually, he was doing Chuck a favor, but she’d let that ride.  When he pulled up in his truck and she ran out to climb in, she gave him an apologetic look.  “I’m sorry you got stuck doing this.  I could have called Duncan and rescheduled our meeting.

Matt shook his head.  “No problem.  I’m happy to do this for you.”

She bit her lip.  For Chuck, she wanted to say, but Matt was here, and they were headed to The Alehouse Bar.  She’d keep quiet about that.  “Chuck said I owed him a supper for meeting Duncan with me.  Same goes for you, and as many beers as you want.  On me.”

He shook his head.  “I’m going home to kids and have to get up early in the morning.  Only two beers for me on a week night.”

“You’re a cheap date.”

“Is this a date then?  Our first one.  I’ll mark it on my calendar, so I can remember our first date anniversary.”

Her stomach clenched.  She stared at him.  “You’re kidding, right?  I was kidding.” 

“Here I thought you were starting to take a shine to me.”

“I am.  We could be great friends.”

He put a hand to his heart.  “The words no man wants to hear.”  Then he glanced at her and started laughing.  “Relax.  Don’t panic yet, but you’re awfully easy to tease.”

No wonder he and Chuck were such good friends.  Too much alike.  She relaxed and took a deep breath.  “Not funny.  I’ve never worried about things getting awkward between us because Chuck said you have so many girls chasing you, you have to beat them away.”

“Hardly. I don’t have time for chasing skirts.  The farm and the kids keep me busy.”

“But your parents took the kids last weekend.”

“So you think I spent time with a girl?  That’s why you were so surprised I came to the Sunday dinner.”  He shook his head.  “I had some friends over for pizza and we played cards.  I don’t get to do that much anymore.”

She fiddled with the hem of her T-shirt.  She’d misjudged him.  She felt a little ashamed of herself at how fast she’d decided he was shacking up.

He grinned at her.  “You know, even back in my high school days, I wasn’t quite the slimeball you thought I was.”

She grimaced at the term.  “Sorry, I shouldn’t have called you that.”

“We didn’t know each other.  Girls did follow me everywhere, but that didn’t mean I slept with every single one of them.”

But she’d bet he slept with a few. 

He could read her thoughts by the look on her face and chuckled.  “No more than your brother Chuck.  He was no innocent back then either.”

True, and she knew he was a good man.  Matt was, too.  “I’ll amend my opinions about you.”

He laughed.  “Then they must be going up because I don’t think they could get too much lower.”

She waved that away.  “It doesn’t really matter what I think about you anyway.”

“But it does.”  His voice was sincere.  “We’re friends now, and you’re going to invite me and my kids over for supper sometimes.  I don’t want to mess that up.”

“You’re really motivated by food.”

“No arguments there.”  They reached the bar and he pulled into a parking space.  “You ready?  Chuck said this Duncan was a real winner.”

She nodded, and they started to the Alehouse.  When they walked through the door, loud music made them both wince.  The place had the typical, funky old bar smell.  The lighting was dim, and they waited to let their eyes adjust before moving further inside.  A guy at the bar turned to raise his glass at her.  She waved.  A friend of Chuck’s.  Karnie spotted Duncan at a booth and they wove their way past filled tables to join him. 

Duncan sneered when Matt slid across from him.  “She had to bring a nursemaid to meet me?”

Matt leveled a look at him.  “You might let a woman come alone to a bar like this, but I wouldn’t.  Did Donna meet you here?”

The sneer vanished.  “I always picked her up.  We came together.”

“My point.”

The waitress came, and Matt ordered a beer.  Karnie asked, “Do you have wine?”  She’d never gotten used to the taste of hops or the bitterness of beer.

“One white wine.  One red.  Which do you want?”

“White.”  She’d take her chances.  Bad wine was better than good beer.

Duncan shook his head.  “I can’t see you and Donna working together.  She had a problem with people who were too uppity.”

Karnie raised an eyebrow.  “Not every person who likes wine is a snob, but Donna and I wouldn’t have gotten along anyway.  She was too pushy.  Sort of like you.”

“You didn’t like her.”

“Not a bit.”

The waitress brought their drinks.  “Are you eating or just visiting?”

“I’m paying,” Karnie said before Matt could.  “For all three of us.  I’ll take a burger and fries.”

After the guys ordered and the waitress left, Duncan studied Karnie.  “You’re used to being in charge, aren’t you?”

She wasn’t going to disagree.  Instead, she asked, “How did you and Donna get along?”

After he took a hit of his beer, he said, “We were brother and sister.  We argued sometimes but always had each other’s back.  She was three years older than me and was always telling me what to do.  Talked me into taking a few jobs I hated until I stopped listening to her.  Now I’m doing okay, running a few different businesses.  Said once the shop got going, she’d make me part of it.”

“Did you want to be part of it?”

Their food arrived, and Duncan waited until the waitress left again to answer.  “There were things I could do to help her, but I knew my sister.  There’s no way I’d drop what I was doing to work with her unless she legally signed part ownership over to me.  Either that, or I’d do a lot of work, she’d get bent out of shape about something, and she’d fire me.  She was like that.”

Karnie and Matt exchanged glances.  “She did that to Worth,” Matt said.

“The kid should have known better.  He had to live with her, for heaven’s sake.  He knew she could be a witch.”

Duncan had no delusions about her.  Karnie gave him credit for that.  “Would she have promised the shop to P.J. if she didn’t mean to give it to him?”

Duncan put down his burger with a snort.  “P.J. was on his way out, wasn’t he?  Donna wasn’t too happy when she found out he’d ordered a watch worth a few thousand for himself with her credit card.”

“She told you that?” Matt asked.

Duncan wiped his mouth with his napkin.  “She said he was starting to be more of a bother than he was worth.”

“Did she love her husband before he died?”  It wouldn’t help decide who’d killed her, but Karnie was curious.

Duncan took a long sip of beer, his brows furrowed in thought, before saying, “I’m not sure she ever loved anyone.  Not our parents.  Can’t blame her.  Not me.”

“Why not your parents?”

“Mom clerks at a small dollar store, smokes all the time, lives for Bingo.  Dad works as little as he can.  They kept a roof over our heads and didn’t pound on us, but that’s about it.  Donna hated being poor.”

Karnie nodded.  That explained a lot.  It didn’t excuse how badly Donna treated people, but it helped her understand Donna more. 

Oops!

Things got busy lately. I didn’t realize how busy until I sat down to write a new blog and looked at the date of the last one I posted. It was scheduled for May 13th. That means I missed an entire WEEK of blogging. I don’t even go that long between posts when I’m on vacation. I don’t know what to say. Time flew.

I’ve been trying really hard to write a chapter a day on the new straight mystery I started, and I’ve done a decent job of that. I made it up to 32,000 words today. Not quite half, but I’m getting there. I’ve read the first two chapters to my writers’ group, and they like it. I was aiming for a Louis Kincaid type feel, but it’s not going to happen. Laurel’s story isn’t going to be a cozy, but I just couldn’t muster up the oomph to come up with an unusual, emotionally charged crime. I loved the first Kincaid book I read. He was a new cop, and the department he was hired into was hiding a dark secret. Color me intrigued. The second book was about a progression of killings from a man who was very black, to one who was lighter, etc. Each victim was a lighter shade than the one before. Louis is a very light black man. Guess who’s next in line? Interesting. Each book I’ve read, though, has upped the ante on the cringe-worthiness of the crimes committed until I’m to the point, I’m hoping the next book is just a strong mystery and doesn’t push me too far. The last book came close. So I decided to write a strong mystery with only a little shock value. Just enough to titillate:)

HH and I relax at the end of the day by watching TV. First, the news–and that can be depressing. And then Wheel of Fortune, because HH is hooked on it. And finally, a show or two. We turn the TV off at 10:00 or 10:30 and I pick up a book to read and HH picks up his tablet. I won’t even pretend it’s for anything more than surfing. Tonight, though, we watched a Hometown Takeover that we’d recorded, and watching that show made me homesick for Jazzi and Ansel and their house flipping and cozy feel. When I finish Laurel and Nick’s book, I have a decent outline for their next mystery. Switching back and forth from a straight mystery to a cozy will give me balance–a gritty crime followed by murders ala family style.

I’m a little worried about trying a straight mystery. I downloaded the free book, How To Market A Book, by Ricardo Fayet from Reedsy. Amazon.com: How to Market a Book: Overperform in a Crowded Market (Reedsy Marketing Guides Book 1) eBook: Fayet, Ricardo: Kindle Store He recommends sticking to your niche and writing a series. I know he’s right. I’m a fan of many mystery writers, and they don’t muck about changing genres. They find what works for them and stay in that lane. I like Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap mysteries. Yes, she writes a few different series, but they’re all COZIES. I auto-buy Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series, and yes, she has another series, too, but it’s still historical mysteries. When readers like your work, why tempt fate?

I wrote some paranormal mysteries, the Raven and Hester series, but they had a cozy feel, so I didn’t push the boundaries too much with those. I just added a little magic. And some battles. In Muddy River, every supernatural works together. Vampires help shifters who help witches, and a demon watches over the entire area. In their community, their biggest threat is humans, so they stick together–like family.

In the marketing book by Ricardo Fayet, he stresses that the most important things in marketing a book is a wonderful cover that hints at what kind of book you wrote, a great blurb, and choosing the right tags and categories so people can find it. A great title doesn’t hurt. For the moment, the working title for my manuscript is VOLUNTEERING FOR TROUBLE, but it’s not good enough. It sounds too lightweight. It sounds too much like a cozy. A title should give the reader an idea of what lies between your book’s covers. I need a cover that has a darker, more sinister mood, too. I want readers to look at the book and KNOW it’s not another cozy. .

Anyway, I’ve been writing and working on marketing, and life intruded, and I really didn’t realize eight days had passed since my last blog. I have a feeling summer’s going to be even busier, but I’ll try to keep track of everything. In the meantime, hope you’re enjoying the warm weather! Happy reading, writing, and. . . whatever.

Fantasy Fun & Writing Advice

I’ve read more gritty books than usual this year, and when I finish one, I need something light and fun to balance it out. So I was delighted when my writer friend, Kyra Jacobs, let me read her upcoming novel, BLUE MANHATTAN. I’m a big fan of witches, demons, and gargoyles. Believe me when I tell you, I hadn’t read any quite like Kyra’s before. The humor was a perfect blend with battles and power struggles. The protagonist tends bar, and the scene with supernatural customers coming in for a drink made me think of the bar scene from STAR WARS. I loved it.

But I’ll let Kyra tell you about it herself. I invited her here to help promote her book and to talk about writing. She surprised me by adding some nice things about me (blushing and trying to stay humble). Writing has its ups and downs, and Kyra–who works to be a positive person–has some great advice about that:.

Kyra Jacobs Guest Post

Hi all! Judi graciously invited me to pop by for a visit this week to help celebrate the release of my tenth novel, BLUE MANHATTAN. And honestly, whether she knows it or not, Judi had a lot to do with me writing this book…

You see, Judy was there when this whole Kyra Jacobs thing began. I’d just finished another draft of my debut novel ARMED WITH STEELE (I had at least eleven drafts of that book…couldn’t tell you which one I was on when I first met her LOL) and had joined a small local writing group that gathered once a month in the back corner of our local Barnes & Noble. I’m pretty sure her dear friend M.L. Rigdon was there as well, along with Shirley Jump and a few other wonderful authors and writers. Me, I was clueless and green and doing my best to be a sponge to all their wonderful advice. And Judi? Well, she just seemed so at ease with the whole writing process. And cool. I mean, she was writing urban fantasy before it really hit the genre scene—talk about a true visionary!

Okay, I may be getting a little carried away, but she definitely made a positive impression on me. Since then, I’ve loved being a cheerleader for her writing. I also love how she’s become a treasured one of mine.

This writing stuff? It ain’t easy. Doing that thing with the words and stringing ‘em together to build a story up from nothing (and pray it all still makes sense in the end) takes imagination. It takes time. Patience. Maybe even some honest-to-goodness skill.

But honestly? I think something that’s just as critical to have along this journey is a tribe you can count on. People who support you, who understand you, who empathize with you. People who cheer for you when you’re celebrating a success—no matter how big or small—and bring a spare tissue along when this writing gig has got you down.

Because it most certainly will sometimes, not gonna lie.

Yes, family and friends are wonderful support networks, but as most writers know, unless your family/friends are writers too, they don’t always GET us. They can’t fully understand the excitement you feel when you have that eleventh-hour plot breakthrough just before a deadline to your editor, or the frustration that’s beginning to eat you alive when you’ve hit a brickwall in your story for the umpteenth time and are thiiiiiiiiis close to shutting your laptop for good. They won’t fully appreciate why hitting 1000 words this afternoon (or 3000 or maybe just a really tough 50) might be something to celebrate, or how painful it was for you to trim those 5600 words from an overinflated genre submission.

But your tribe does.

They understand everything you’re feeling because they’ve likely experienced it at some point too. Our shared pains and joys and frustrations and elations are what bind us on a different level. Having a tribe gives you a safe place to vent, or to bounce ideas around, or to test out plot twists and watch for reactions. Priceless, is truly what they are, repaid in hugs and thank you’s and endless cheering from the sidelines.

Sure, the involvement of your tribe’s members may change over the years as some journeys wind down while others’ ramp up, but those connections and friendships can last a lifetime.

I’d be lost without my tribe—they know who they are, and each of them have secured a precious place in my heart. Judi and M.L. are certainly there, for all the wisdom and support they’ve gifted me with over the years, as are countless others. Some, I’ve met in person. Others, I’ve made connections with from across the country to even around the world, all thanks to the amazing technology that is the interwebz. Each one is a true blessing, and help keep me grounded when life starts spinning off-kilter. Their resilience inspires me to keep trying, keep dreaming.

Keep writing.

So yes, Judi, in her own steadfast journey, has helped keep me moving forward with mine (and I’m certain that I’m not the only one, if the dedication of her regular, on-going local writers group is any indication.) Her bravery in trying different genres and rolling with the punches helped inspire me to give my imagination freer rein with BLUE MANHATTAN, and it’s quickly become one of my favorite stories. Will it sell a million copies? Eh, who knows. But one thing I do know is this: my tribe will be right beside me either way, and to me those friendships are worth their weight in gold.

Thank you, Judi, for being part of my tribe, and for all the support and encouragement you’ve graciously offered me over the years. And thank you all for sharing your time with me today. Stay safe, take care, and write on!

P.S. If you’re looking for a new wild and crazy fantasy romance, I’ve got you covered. 😉

Blurb:

Bartender Shayla Tempest wants nothing more than to stay out of trouble. Oh, and to kill the supernatural mob boss who’s stolen her sister. So, when Mauricio Hunter demands Shay deliver some “special package” in exchange for her sister’s life, this supe masquerading as a blue-skinned witch doesn’t hesitate to agree. Until, that is, she learns the package is one that’s completely off-limits for her kind: a human.

Computer programmer Jamie Knight just wants to finish debugging his latest app. But some douche bag named Mauricio has kidnapped his girlfriend, and now Jamie’s dodging dangerous mythical creatures in a race against time to pay her ransom. His only hope? One seriously stubborn witch who’s blue, scary powerful, and sexy as hell.

With an unexpected attraction brewing between them, this unlikely duo will break every rule in the supernatural underworld to complete their rescue mission. But something far more devious than kidnapping is on Mauricio’s true agenda, and the erlking will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Do Shay and Jamie have what it takes to thwart his plans without losing themselves—or each other—along the way?

Available now at Amazon.