Should You Be Honest?

Writing is hard. It takes a while to get good at it. Selling is harder. And making lots of money at it is…REALLY hard. Haven’t gotten there yet.

I belong to a writers’ club, and all of us that have stuck at it are pretty damned good. But new people come and go. Some of them are realistic, and some of them aren’t. Some write because they love it and can’t stop. Some write because they’re looking for the lucky flip of a coin so they’ll become famous and eventually sell tons of books And some stick around and get really good but drop out after that one rejection too many.

I read a story once about a man who was a musician. He went to see a famous violinist–the instrument he played–and the man let him play for him. “Do I have what it takes?” the man asked. The famed musician shook his head. “No.” The man left, locked away his violin, and gave up. Someone who’d heard the man said, “But I thought he was wonderful.” “He was,” the famed musician said, “but if he gave up that easily, he’d have never made it anyway.” I don’t know where I read that story or who wrote it, but it’s stayed with me a long time. How much of success is talent and how much is perseverance and striving?

I remember going to a writing conference, and one of the speakers stood at the podium and went on and on, telling new writers every single thing that could go wrong to keep them from succeeding. I remember thinking how depressing that speaker was. Why not teach them how to make their writing better so that they might succeed? Which is more realistic? Doomsday or optimistic? And how realistic do we need to be? The speaker’s comeback: Do we do people favors when we encourage them even when their skills are miserable?

But I know this. A retired man joined our group. He’d been a popular radio announcer for a farm program. He asked me to look at the first few chapters of the book he was working on about his years as a pilot in the war. Every sentence was out of order. I had to number them and organize them into paragraphs for them to make any sense. It took me a long time, but he was so determined to learn, he not only improved quickly but turned into a good writer and sold his book. I’d have never believed it possible, but he did it. And it was a good book.

I did it!

I’ve spent the weekend typing. And I did it! The first draft is DONE. I just typed the last word. It’s not perfect. It’s a draft, but it’s FINISHED! Now I can give POSED IN DEATH to my critique partners and move on to a new project until I get their feedback. HH and I are going out for supper to celebrate!!

Just a clicking away

C.S. Boyack has a vivid imagination. This is his take on how dangerous research can be. Beware. And I hope you laugh at this as much as I did.

Entertaining Stories

I got to the writing cabin at a decent time this morning, then made my way to the paranormal office. I rolled the top of Patty Hall’s old-fashioned desk back, then opened my document.

Lisa Burton, my robotic personal assistant walked in.

Lisa Burton

“Ta-dah! Ready for work, Captain.”

“Yeah, um… We finished that one, remember.”

“You’re here to do edits, though, right?”

“I’m going to wait until August. Let it clear my mind a bit.”

“The raven of Doubt will be so disappointed. He’s been super excited to help you.”

“He can wait, too. I’ve been working on something for Lizzie and the hat. It’s fun, and keeps me busy.”

“Does he become a pirate hat?”

“No.”

“Great, then I have the wrong outfit. What should I be wearing?”

“Nothing special. I need some help with research, and you’re faster than I am.”

She took a seat on the couch. “Okay…

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Best Laid Plans….

I meant to have the first draft of POSED IN DEATH finished by the end of June. I knew June was going to be a busy month, but I didn’t realize quite how busy it was going to get. There’s no way I’m going to meet my goal.

HH’s brother and his significant other came to stay with us for a few days for a visit. They live in California,, so we don’t get to see them often. We had a wonderful time, but no writing. I love having guests, so cooked things ahead for them, and we took them to different places for walks and hikes (their favorite thing to do). Our daughter, a traveling nurse, is still coming to stay with us on the days she works in town; and it’s wonderful getting to see her, so I shave off time for that. On a sadder note, my cousin who lives with my sister is having more health issues, and Mary had appointments she had to keep, so I sat with Jenny more than usual lately. She’s having more mild seizures lately and having more trouble walking, so Mary and I are starting to look at nursing centers.

Some people shake their heads at that, but after HH’s dad died, his mother was a lot happier when I found a good nursing home for her. She hated being alone, didn’t enjoy cooking, and kept forgetting to take her medicine. The home she stayed in had an activity every afternoon and usually another one each night. I went to take her out for lunch and for long rides every Thursday for twelve years until she told me that she couldn’t work me into her schedule anymore. I loved it. My writer friend, Ann–one of my favorite people–went to a nursing home after her husband died, too, and her daughter visited her every day. She was in my writers’ club, so I went to visit her occasionally and so did other members of our group, and she got happier and happier the longer she was there. I think Jenny will be the same. She loves being around people and doing crafts. Right now, she watches a lot of TV and can’t get out much. Mary and I will visit her if we can find a good home for her. So will my daughter. But finding that good place for her takes time.

I don’t have any deadlines I have to meet, and that’s a good thing right now, but I’m getting a little antsy to get this done. Sometimes, life happens, though, and this time, I’m doomed. I’ve been writing whenever I can, and I can smell the end of the first draft. Only five more chapters to go. I’ll get to them when I can. There’s no use fussing about it. It is what it is, and I did the best I could. So I’ll just keep chugging along. At least, for now, I’m happy with what I have, and I’m writing this ahead to schedule it, so who knows? Maybe I’ll have written The End by the time you read this.

How’s your summer going? Do you lose writing time once warm weather rolls around? I always think of the lazy days of summer, but the truth is, I’m busier once the heat cranks up. I have the yard to take care of besides the house. And we’re more social in warm weather and go out more. We play more. Do you still meet writing goals? Fingers crossed you do.

Love and Marriage

Photo by Maria Lindsey Content Creator on Pexels.com

HH and I have survived the ups and downs of life and still like each other…a lot. Our 50th anniversary is August 21st, so our family has gone together to rent a vacation house on Tybee Island to celebrate. Both of our daughters will be there. One’s bringing her significant other and the other her husband. We really like both of them. Our grandson and his wife are coming. Yay. So is our second grandson with his girlfriend. It will be the first time we meet her. HH’s brother and his partner will be there, too. We’re so looking forward to seeing everyone and having a good time.

HH and I have been lucky, and we know it. Some of our friends haven’t fared as well. Divorces are few, but some of our friends have lost spouses to diabetes, cancer, and other health problems. It takes a long time–longer than a year of grieving–for the spouse who survived to enjoy life again. In the book [‘m working on now, POSED IN DEATH, Laurel–my protagonist–and Nick–her romantic interest–are both widows. Laurel’s husband died of a heart attack three years ago and Nick’s wife was killed in a random shooting a year before that. They both had two children who are now grown, and they’re both lonely. Neither of them was looking for someone…until they met each other.

Marriages–good and bad–play an important part in the book. A serial killer is stalking married women in their forties. When Laurel and Nick question people who might know why one of Laurel’s best friends was targeted, they discover that there are all kinds of marriages and different reasons they work or don’t work. But, was Maxine really targeted by the Midlife Murderer, or did a copycat killer try to make it look that way?

When I started to write POSED IN DEATH, I didn’t realize marriage was going to be such a strong theme in the book, but it’s been interesting to see what I can do with the good, the bad, and the ugly bits Not every marriage is happy or even healthy. And that adds to a mystery:).

Feedback Makes Everything Better

I’m further along in my straight mystery and read two chapters of it to my writers’ club this week. Each of us gets 15 minutes to read, and my chapters were short, so I got to read both of them. Some people read their best work when it’s their turn, and it blows us away. Honestly, getting great feedback is just what you need sometimes to keep you plowing along. Mostly, though, I like to read what I think is my WORST writing to see what kind of feedback I get. I always read my first chapter, because, let’s face it, mine usually need some serious work. And then I read chapters I’m not sure about. I worry if they do what I want them to. That’s why I love my group. I get HONEST feedback, and one of my fellow writers said, “Your chapters bounced back and forth between serial killer and cozy.” Not what I wanted to hear. But I had a deep, in my gut fear, she was absolutely right. I just wasn’t sure what to do about it.

And then I read C.S. Boyack’s blog for Story Empire last week, and even though I KNOW I need lots of tension for a straight mystery, I also knew I’d reverted back to my happy, cozy roots. I love cozies, and it’s so easy for me to fall into that pattern, and even though I don’t want to go as dark as some mysteries that I love, I also didn’t want to spend time in the kitchen, cooking and being a happy family too often in this book. Craig’s post helped me sort out what I wanted to change. There IS a big difference between suspense and tension. EVERY book needs tension, be it a romance or a serial killer. Things CAN’T go right for the protagonist or you have a soft chapter. Which is okay once in a while to give the reader a place to catch her breath. But it can’t be a regular part of the novel. Here’s Craig’s post, and it clicked for me: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2021/06/23/the-other-sister/

I’m going back to “happy” chapters and adding conflict today. And it’s going to make my book better. It’s going to make my characters stronger, too. I don’t know who you use for feedback, but I hope you have a couple people you can trust. And if you don’t, think about tension. It’s what keeps readers turning the pages. I’m adding more to mine. I hope you have enough in yours. And happy writing!

Here’s a cover I thought of for POSED IN DEATH. It’s still in the “maybe” phase. But I didn’t want it to look like a cozy to warn readers this book is darker.

Still Life in Death

I read a lot of mysteries. I’ve narrowed down a small list of favorite authors who I know I’ll enjoy, but I’ve reached the point that I’ve read most of their backlog and now I have to wait until a new book by them comes out. Which means, I’m searching for new authors to add to my auto buys. And I’ve found some good ones. I just took a chance on P.B. Ryan’s STILL LIFE WITH MURDER, and it blew me away.

I like historical fiction. This book takes place in post Civil War Boston, 1868. The heroine is a young Irish girl who had an ugly start in life but didn’t give up and has finally worked her way into a job as a governess for a wealthy family. The matron who hires her is eccentric and suspects that Nell is no innocent and doesn’t care. She’s bound to a wheelchair and sends Nell to find information to prove that her wayward son, Will, didn’t partake of too much opium and kill a man in an alley. While Will’s mother is working to free him, his father is doing everything possible to make sure he hangs, eliminating the wealthy family of the “William Problem.”

The set-up, obviously, assures the story will have plenty of tension. If Will’s father learns that Nell is visiting opium dens and sharing information with a smart, huge Irish detective, he’ll fire her, and she’ll have no job and no respect–she could easily be worse off than before she got the job. Even if she does everything she can, the son–Will–is determined to hang and refuses to do anything to save himself.

One of the things I loved about the story is one of the things that earned it low marks with some readers. The author makes addiction all too real and depression even more realistic. William Hewitt was a surgeon when the war started. He and his brother, Robbie, joined the Union Army because of their excellent horse skills. When Robbie is wounded and can’t be moved, Will has to saw off his arm and stay with him until they’re both captured. They’re sent to Andersonville POV camp, and their lives become hell. Will refuses to give up, though, and keeps Robbie’s wounds clean–no infection, no gangrene. He digs a dip in the frozen ground to keep them from freezing when they’re forced to sleep outdoors because of overcrowding. But when he returns home, alone, the pain from the bullet wound in his leg and his memories make opium appealing.

The author didn’t pull any punches about the war and the after-effects it had on men. She didn’t glamorize poverty either, and I appreciated that. She showed the rich class with its good and its bad. Her characters were complex and well-drawn. I love reading really well-written books. They make me think about what makes them stand out, for me, above other well done books. Nell’s character is wonderful. She’s fierce, loyal, and smart with a big heart. But Will Hewitt with his easy charm, brilliant mind, and weariness of life was fascinating. So many contradictions. And for me, a character that would be hard to write. I’m so glad I read this book. It will make me think about the characters and story for a long time, but more, it will make me examine how the author accomplished what she did and how she threw two very different characters together and let them respect and challenge each other.

A Stephen King quote says that if you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. If a person works, there’s not always time to do both, but most writers are or were people who love books. And reading other authors can inspire us to try harder, to write better, while always staying true to ourselves. Happy Writing!

It Feels So Good

Readers have more of an impact on writers than they think. On the last two blog posts I’ve written about the book I’m working on now, a straight mystery, I’ve gotten comments on Facebook, asking if I’m still going to write another Jazzi and Ansel cozy. Those commenters have no idea how good they make me feel!

I love Jazzi and Ansel, even though Kensington dropped me as a writer. And yes, I plan to write more books in their series. But I have to admit, being dropped made me doubt myself. Lyrical Press did their best to promote me. They paid for BookBub ads and had me as a guest on the Between the Chapters blog they host. I felt like part of their family, cared for. But I didn’t sell enough books, and publishers are a business. So they moved on to try someone new, someone who might make more money for them. I understand that.

But I still love Jazzi and Ansel. And cozies. But it did make me think maybe I needed to up my game and to try something else, too. That’s why I’m writing POSED IN DEATH. I’m trying not to go too dark. I’m not even sure I can anymore. I’m a wimp when it comes to dark these days. But I did want to focus more on the mystery and less on the characters” lives. No warm stuff with families and friends. But even then, a little seeped in. And I added a romance. Who knows if it’s not still too soft?

But when I finish Posed In Death, I’m going to start my next Jazzi book, the eighth, BODY IN THE BUICK. I even have the plot points started, and I’m excited about it. Jazzi finds out she’s pregnant, and of course, Ansel is thrilled. I felt like a beast when I was pregnant, so healthy I didn’t know what to do with myself and the bigger I got, the better I bowled on my teachers’ bowling league. Jazzi will keep feeling better, too, and Ansel and Jerod will worry about everything she does. . . .

I’m over halfway through my current draft, but it usually takes me three months to write a Jazzi, so I won’t have a new book for a while, but I WILL have one. Don’t give up on me. I’m just experimenting a little now, a little unsure of myself. That’s why I wrote A Cut Above, a new cozy series. But Jazzi is still one of my loves. And I’m still writing her.

A 2-day Chapter

I have a writing routine. It’s been so screwed up lately, I cling to the idea I have one. But life happens. My sister takes care of my cousin with cerebral palsy, and Jenny’s health has gone awry. I try to help my sister, but there are so many issues lately, I mostly get phone calls of my sister crying, not sure how to help Jenny through all of the new crises.

Between phone calls and going over to sit with Jenny so my sister can leave the house, I’ve been writing. And I’m making progress, but boy, is it slow. I’m past half of the first draft of my straight mystery. I started it as Volunteering For Trouble, but that sounds too much like a cozy, so now I’m calling it Posed In Death, and I hope that sticks. But who knows? I’ve been trying to write one chapter on it a day, but if I get too many calls in one day, things get shaky. BUT, I hit a big turning point chapter, and I had enough time to get it right, so I wrote it. But, I know myself, and I knew it would need a lot more work the second day.

Thank God for second days and rewrites. Writing emotional scenes is hard for me. I’m not a truly emotional person. I’m more goal oriented. I know–just like my books. Gwen Plano over at Story Empire wrote a fascinating blog today about how you can get to know an author by what he/she writes. Accompanying the Writer | Story Empire (wordpress.com) I’m not sure what my writing says about me, but it’s an interesting read.

Anyway, in my story I reached a turning point between Laurel and Nick. They’re both widows, and they’re both lonelier than they realized. So I wrote the scene in one day, and when I looked at it the next day, it took me the ENTIRE day to fill in all of the things I didn’t say. I have friends who fly through emotions in scenes. I can’t do it. One of my friends analyzed handwriting, even did court cases, and she told me to open my a’s and o’s because I close them up, showing that I hold in my emotions. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve REALLY tried, but my a’s and o’s are still closed once I don’t focus on them. A bummer. But after listening to Ann, I KNOW that I’m not going to get emotional scenes right the first time I write them.

You learn things about yourself as you write–your strengths and weaknesses. And that’s a good thing. I know I’m good at plotting. I’m practical. I like the cause and effect. I’m not so good at expressing my emotions, but I can eventually get there, if I keep trying. I love analyzing characters, figuring out what drives them, and I’m ferociously loyal–whether that’s a good thing or a bad. And I love nurturing people. My Jazzi series probably shows that. Moe than I realized before I read Gwen’s blog. I’m not sure what my paranormal fiction says about me, but maybe that’s a good thing:).

What do you think? Can you understand the author by what he or she writes? If you read Gwen’s blog, what’s your reaction?