Packing my Bags

I’m on a cyber journey to C.S. Boyack’s blog today. He invited me as a guest to promote my latest, Posed In Death. I’ve mentioned Craig off and on here. He writes speculative fiction I enjoy, especially his Lanternfish trilogy with Serang, a character who will stay with me a long time. At his place, I’m talking about why I decided to write something darker than a cozy. I mean, it’s not like I needed to start another series. I already have three mystery series I like to write, but…

I meant to get up earlier to share my guest post and give it a roaring start:) But our daughter stays at our place when she works as a traveling nurse in town. I don’t usually hear her come home, but she got off at 3:30 and walked in the door at 4:00 but couldn’t sleep. She was still awake at 7:00 and I heard her moving around in the kitchen so got up to check on her. (I know. She’s in her forties, but old habits die hard). Anyway, . two of her patients were sent to hospice last night (not Covid), and it made it hard for her to relax. I’m glad I got up. After she talked it out, she could go to sleep. I went back to bed, too. One of the joys of retirement:) So I got a late start for the day, but life happens. And I woke up to the fun of being Craig’s guest. Yay! I hope you check out his site and my guest post:

A Snippet

I thought I’d share a short scene from POSED IN DEATH. Laurel Reagan finds her friend Maxine’s body arranged like the other victims of the Midlife Murderer. She learns that Maxine went out to supper with a freelance reporter, Nick Menas, shortly before the night she was killed. When Nick calls her and asks to interview her, she only agrees because they’re meeting in a public place and she doesn’t fit the type the Midlife Murderer always chooses. Then she learns he had an alibi for the night Maxine died, so when he volunteers to team up with her to learn more about the case, she feels safe.

On the drive home, Nick said, “This has been a nice day.  Thank you.”

“I’ve enjoyed it, too.  I needed something to cheer me up after finding Maxine.”

He grimaced.  “I don’t know which is worse, losing my wife to a random shooter or having a friend murdered by a serial killer.”

“They’re both horrible, but I can do something about Maxine.  I want to find her killer.  I won’t have closure until whoever did it is behind bars and hopefully never free again.”

He glanced sideways at her as he drove.  “You sound determined.”

“I am.  I lost my husband to a heart attack.  Stuart had always had cardiac problems, so I knew I’d lose him someday going into the marriage, but still, it felt random.  It came sooner than we expected, and there was nothing I could do to prevent it.  Maxine’s death is different, though.  It shouldn’t have happened, and if I find out who did it, I can make sure no one else has to die that way.  I’m going to do all I can to help Ralph find who killed her.”

“Ralph is on the case?”

“Not officially, and he doesn’t want me involved.  He’s warned me away.”

“But you’re still going to pursue it?”

“Yes.”

Nick glanced at her again.  “You’re serious about this, aren’t you?”

“I doubt if I make a difference.  The cops have more resources than I do, but if I can help, I’m going to.”

His dark eyebrows dipped in a frown.  “I was a crime reporter before my wife died.  Then I needed a break from it.  It hit too close to home, but I’m getting tired of human-interest stories.  I’d love to write in-depth, serious pieces again.  Not the everyday drive-by shootings, but this case would interest me.  I could work with you.  If you want a partner, that is.”

Did she?  Could she trust this man?  She didn’t know much about him.  “You’d help me dig for information?”

“I used to be good at it.  My wife’s case was wrapped up before I even learned that she’d died.  It made me feel useless, and I hated it.  I’d be able to do something this time.  I’m going to be in town a while.  I want to write my section of the book here, then if I need more information, it will be easier to get.  But it would feel good to be able to make a difference about a death, you know?”

“I do.” She surprised herself by how much she could relate to him.  “And the truth is, I’d feel safer if someone went with me when I visited people I want to talk to.”

“Then I’m your guy.”  He gripped the steering wheel, his expression earnest.  “I pester people all the time who don’t want to talk to me.  Give me a call when you want to visit someone, and I’ll be there.”

A worry niggled.  “This isn’t just about getting a scoop on who the Midlife Murderer is, is it?”

He pressed his lips in a grim line.  “Will that be a deal breaker?  I have to admit that’s part of it.  I’m sort of using you to get a toe in the door.  I want you to know that.  But we’ll still find Maxine’s killer.  And part of this, for me, is finding closure after my wife was killed.”

That was part of what was driving her, too.  She decided to find out how serious he was.  “I’m going to make a casserole to take to Maxine’s husband tomorrow.  I think he’s a worthless human being, but I want to see what he has to say about Maxine.  Want to come?”

“You’re still okay with me tagging along?”

“Why not?  I’d like to see the Midlife Murderer behind bars, too.”

“When should I pick you up?”

…..And that’s how Laurel and Nick become a team.

Good Luck, POSED IN DEATH

I didn’t think my agent would like my latest book, and I was right. She passed on it. It’s a thriller, but it doesn’t follow the rules. It has “nice” moments in it, too. It’s not relentlessly building tension. It doesn’t fit the mold.

Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes, I like a well-written thriller, but I like cozies more. Sneaking some cozy into a thriller muddled the mix, but it’s what I wanted to do. So I did. And I was pretty sure that was going to mean I’d have to self-publish it. And I was right.

I respect the need for rules in writing. When a reader picks up a thriller, that’s what they want to read. To sell, the writer has to deliver whatever he labeled his manuscript and make it his own AND write it as well or better than the writers who are already selling in that genre. It surprised me when an editor told me that. Until then, I thought I was competing with new writers in the field, but when I thought about it, I was competing for a space in that genre against everyone who was writing it. That’s not a bad thing. It just means that my work had to be as good as theirs without mimicking it.

For Posed In Death, I knew I wanted to write a mystery/thriller. Sometimes, in an expanding market, a writer can bend the rules and still sell. In a tight market, it’s trickier. That means editors will probably turn down your work, but that doesn’t mean that readers won’t like it. Readers are more willing to blend genres. They don’t have to stick a title in a category to market it and make it sell. Anyway, I wanted to write something darker than a cozy, and I can now share POSED IN DEATH. If you try it, I hope you like it.

Oldies but Goodies

My critique partner and writer friend, M.L. Rigdon/Julia Donner, has mentioned a few times now that she’d like to find books with older heroines. She was ready to read a romance that featured someone who wasn’t in her twenties or thirties, and to that end, she decided to write about an older heroine herself. She’s working on a Regency with a duchess who lost her husband to the French guillotine and fled to England to raise her son. In an earlier book, that son is grown and married. In the current book, the duchess prefers to stay in the country but comes to London as a favor to a friend, and–since it’s a romance–is pursued by a widower who finds her maturity refreshing. Maturity can be refreshing, darn it.

In POSED IN DEATH, the thriller I wrote, my protagonist, Laurel, is fifty-seven, and her romantic interest, Nick, is fifty-four. Laurel’s husband died of a heart attack, and Nick’s wife was killed in a random shooting. They’re both empty-nesters. Their children have grown and have lives of their own, and their kids want them to be happy. When Nick and Laurel team up to find how the Midlife Murderer chooses his victims and why, they encourage them to date again, to try new things. They’ve each had successes and failures. Laurel is way past menopause. She has to hit the gym to keep in shape. So does Nick. They know what they want…or don’t want. It was interesting to write their journey.

I’ve just started reading a new mystery, CRIME AND PUNCTUATION, by Kaitlyn Dunnett, and her main character is even older. Mikki Lincoln’s a retired widower who taught language arts and now makes extra money editing for writers. She’s over sixty-five and has to wear eye glasses and hearing aids. Her friends have health and eye problems, too, but they’re active and sharp witted. It lends a different flavor to the mystery to have a character who’s lived long enough to have an attitude and whose friend has to use a wheelchair on “bad” days and a scooter on worse ones. .

Good writing means creating interesting characters, and anyone of any age can qualify. But it’s nice to find some variety, to read about some older protagonists. I’m enjoying it.. Do you have any favorite heroes or heroines who are past their prime?

Oh, The Pain!

For the last couple years, I’ve had a surplus of favorite authors to read, bouncing back and forth between them because I found their series late enough that I got to play catch up. It was wonderful. If I read a new author that didn’t quite live up to expectations, I’d download a favorite author and know I was in for a good time. But like all good things, I ran out of books in their series. I have to wait, like everyone else, for the newest to come out. So I read blurbs on BookBub and tried some more new authors and tossed in some new genres, and I’ve found some I really like, but I’ve kept waiting for my favorites to show up.

And waiting. And waiting. And then I realized that the new books were going to take longer than I expected. The authors each started new series, so now they have to divide their writing time between the ones I love and the second and sometimes third series they’re offering. I know how this works, because I’ve done the same thing. Instead of writing one Jazzi and Ansel after another, I took turns, adding two Lux novels, a Karnie Cleaver mystery, and a darker thriller to my list. I understand that a writer needs to stretch once in a while, to try something new.

But oh, the pain! I finally looked up upcoming releases to see how much longer it would be before a new book in my favorites would come out. I read Anna Lee Huber’s A WICKED CONCEIT in April of 2021. The next one, A PERILOUS PERSPECTIVE, is scheduled for April 5, 2022. A year apart! Fair enough. The Lady Darby series is historical and takes lots of research, and they’re not quick reads, so I’m sure that they’re not quick writes. I’ll just have to hang in there.

So I turned to Lynn Cahoon, who writes cozies. I love her Tourist Trap series. But once again, I’ll have to hold my breath. PICTURE PERFECT FRAME was released on March 16, 2021. WEDDING BELL BLUES comes out March 1, 2022. She writes the Farm to Fork mysteries, along with her Cat Latimer series, and recently started The Kitchen Witch novels.. I’ll have to wait my turn.

I follow three Ilona Andrews series, and I’m waiting for a new book in any of the three. Her books are long and complicated, so it might be a while. And she has more series than the three that are my favorites. She’s shared some really interesting blogs lately about writing and how she works and how often things don’t go as planned. Here’s a good one about waiting for your favorite author to deliver what you want: https://ilona-andrews.com/2021/answer-it-is-upsetting/

Luckily, I’ve found some new authors I really enjoy. Who knows? I’ll probably catch up on their series, too, and then I’ll have to find even more new authors I want to read over and over again. But that’s a good thing, right? And even the authors who don’t make me want to read their next book and the next have been mostly good. But finding authors you treasure is sort of like dating. There might be lots of good possibilities out there, but finding the one that makes you want to commit doesn’t happen that often.

He killed a dog!

I’m shocked. Horrified. I’m reading Preston and Child’s BLOODLESS, because my blog friend Mae Clair made it sound so good in the review on her blog. If you’ve never read one of her reviews, you’re missing something. But beware! Your TBR file will grow even when you swear you won’t buy another book. https://maeclair.com/

I’m only at 72%, but this book is one heck of a thriller. And I’ve just learned how most of the parts come together, which involves…and I love this….the paranormal. Piecing all of the clues together has been a fun ride, but I couldn’t figure out WHAT’S killing people. Now, I have an idea. And it’s awesome.

But along the way, Savannah’s lead detective enlists the help of a tracker whose dog catches the scent they need and rips his leash away from his owner to follow the trail. From the way the pacing’s set up, the reader knows this isn’t going to end well. I’m not giving anything away here. If you read it, believe me, you’ll know. But I kept thinking, writers aren’t allowed to kill dogs or cats in mysteries. It’s one of the UNSPOKEN rules. Guess what? Rules are made to be broken. And boy, was it effective!

I’m reaching one of the high points of the book now. I’d have kept reading last night except I couldn’t keep my eyes open. A lot is happening, and I’m curious how the writers are going to bring everything together. A lot of bodies and carnage look possible. But the authors have already tossed in some great twists and turns, so who knows?

BUT…let’s face it. People can die. They usually do (in mysteries). But to kill a dog? It upped the ante of the killer. Job well done. And I hope I can stay awake long enough tonight to finish the book! Mae Clair recommended a good one!

The Waiting Game

I sent my manuscript POSED IN DEATH to my agent, and even though I know better, I always hold my breath, waiting for feedback from her. I’m not sure she’ll like a darker mystery or think I’ll have any luck selling something that’s not a cozy. So I worry. And I wait. I start out confident. I think I wrote a good book. My writers’ club liked the chapters I read to them. My critique partner liked it. But the more time passes, the more reasons I can think of why Lauren won’t take it. Maybe that market’s harder to break into than cozies.

While I wait, I started work on my next book, another Jazzi. And then I started worrying about that. Maybe I should have written that first. Maybe I’ve waited too long between books. I won’t have a new book to publish for another three months. .Maybe readers will have moved on to something else.

For me, part of writing is worrying. Not a totally bad thing if I keep it in check. It prods me to push myself a little harder. And it makes me appreciate the days when the words flow and turn out better than I hoped for. Somewhere in the process, the characters start pushing me whether I worry or not. And then I find a fflow.

I know this sounds crazy, but even if Lauren turns down POSED IN DEATH, I’ll feel better than waiting for her answer. The waiting gets to me. But I’m hanging in there and keeping my fingers crossed.

Old Friends

HH and I went to a bar Wednesday night to meet up with a group of old friends. Joyce and Abe used to live in town before they retired and moved to South Carolina to enjoy the sun and surf, but they went to visit their family’s cottage for a month and were passing through town on their way home, so we all gathered to meet them. There’s something comforting about being with old friends we’ve known for years and years and weathered ups and downs with. Like having a second family.

I’m writing my eighth Jazzi and Ansel now, and they get together with their family and friends every Sunday. On top of that, Jazzi gets together with her sister and friends every Thursday night for a girls’ night out. HH and I meet our friends at the same bar every other Tuesday. That way we can keep up with each other. The guys all worked together at a little hamburger/ice cream place during high school, and the joke is that when they got older and married, the wives became part of their group, whether we wanted to or not:) And it’s been nice. Over the years, we’ve had kids, watched them grow up and move out, survived health problems , dealt with aging parents, and now we’re all “couples” again–empty nesters.

Jazzi and Ansel and their friends are at the stage our group was at in our late twenties. Their parents aren’t old enough to retire, so they’re working. In this book, Eli (Jerod’s father) has to fire a mechanic who’s worked for him a long time. Vince began scamming clients into repairs they didn’t need when they brought their cars in to be worked on, not reporting the “extra” repair and pocketing the money. Completely out of character for him. When he ends up dead, Eli wants to know who killed him and why, but mostly, what drove Vince to such desperate measures. He asks Jazzi and Ansel to help find answers, and the mystery begins…

Not my destiny?

I’ve been trying to write a blog for days now. Not anything earth-shaking or deep and wise. Just a little, simple blog, but every time I sit down at my computer to write it, someone stops to visit or calls. I’ve decided the stars and planets are warning me to keep my thoughts to myself this week..

HH loves to go to the American Legion every Thursday after supper. There are hardly any young members. He sits with other veterans and drinks beer and tries to win at raffles and has a “guys night out.” While he’s gone, I sit down to write a blog, but this week, my sister called, and we hadn’t talked for a while, and before I knew it, HH was home again. How did the time fly that fast? The night before that, my grandson called. And the night before that, I invited a friend over for supper and had a wonderful night, yakking.

I know I could write a blog during the day, but I work hard to reserve that time for writing books–and it’s hard to hang onto that slot of hours anyway. There are always things that need done. HH thinks he should have something to eat every day, silly man. He likes to have groceries in the house:) The dog and cat think they deserve attention once in a while. And weeds keep growing every time it rains–and it’s rained more than usual this year. Not that I’m complaining. I feel for the people in drought. And for the poor people who are flooded.

Everyone I know struggles to find enough time to get everything done, so it’s a common ailment. But I can usually sneak in a blog post here or there. Not this week. But that’s okay, because instead of connecting with internet friends, I spent time with family and flesh and blood friends. It’s all about balance. Hope your life is balanced right now. And happy writing!

Patience (not one of my virtues)

I’m writing plot points for Jazzi and Ansel #8, The Body in the Buick. I’m excited about this book, but I’m being pickier than usual about pacing, and it’s making this process take FOREVER. Either that, or vacation made my brain turn to mush and I’m trying to wake it up again.

I thought this time, whizzing through plot points would be a breeze. I’ve thought about this book a lot before I started trying to organize it. I did my mystery questions and answers, getting to know the victim, his family and friends, suspects, witnesses, and minor characters. I jotted down ideas on Scapple, little twists to move the story forward. You’d think I’d have a head start. But trying to organize everything has been about as easy as herding cats.

It’s odd how books work. Some come easy, almost showing you the way to follow the dots so the story just falls into place. This isn’t one of those. Some are like beating your head against the wall. They fight you every inch of the way. But those books still want to be written and bug you when you put them down. Easy or not doesn’t determine if they’re good or mediocre. Some stories that are the most difficult end up being the best. But not always. Sometimes, you invest a lot of time trying to beat a story into shape, but it never quite comes together. You can make it work, but you won’t pat yourself on the back when it’s done. You’ll sigh with relief and know it could have been better, but not from lack of trying. I’ve yet to figure out how it all works, and I wish I could.

I reached a wall two nights ago and thought The Body in the Buick might be a really short mystery. I couldn’t figure out what to do next, and then I woke up the next morning, and bam! An idea made me so happy, I did a little dance around the kitchen’s butcher block. I wanted to have all of the plot points done by the weekend, but it didn’t happen. Now, I’m just relieved I’ll HAVE plot points, and I’ll start writing when I finish slogging through the rest of them. It just goes to show you. The best laid plans–because I’d done a lot of work up front–don’t always work out. That’s the thing about writing. I love it, but sometimes it makes me nuts. (Of course, HH would say that doesn’t take much).

I hope whatever you’re doing is going more smoothly than my work right now. And happy September!