A lot of the books I read start with a female protagonist who meets a male during her attempt to fix whatever problem the book deals her–solve a murder, go on a quest, conquer a villain. Almost the minute the two meet, readers know this is the beginning of a romance subplot. And we want the two to get together.

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This is just me, but I can’t help it, when there’s a love triangle, I’m done. I hate them. I don’t know how many series I’ve stopped reading because the author keeps bouncing the heroine between two men, trying to decide which one is right for her. Ugh! I especially hate it when I like them both, and one of them gets hurt. Then I’m down for the count. Goodbye, series.

One of the gimmicks I like is the enemy to lover romance meme. The hero and heroine meet, and she instantly dislikes him. Could be for good reasons. Sometimes not. I don’t care. He’s usually haughty. She’s independent and feisty, and the two don’t mix. But he wants her. And she swears it’s not going to happen. But it always does:) Because we know they’re meant for each other. I’m thinking of Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniel series with Curran and Kate. Pride and Prejudice, and lots of paranormal romances. I’m a sucker for these. M.L. Rigdon’s romances often use these, and I can’t wait until the heroine realizes the hero APPEARS to be a pain in the fanny but is actually the perfect man for her.

In standalone novels, one book solves all the problems between the male/female mating dance. In a series, it might take longer than that. I’m thinking of the Lady Darby historical mysteries by Anna Lee Huber. Lady Darby and Sebastian met in book one, and the attraction was strong, but he had obligations he had to meet and left at the end of book one. And so on and so on until they finally married in a novella, book 4. I’m a fan of Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series, but if Greg and Jill don’t finally tie the knot in book 15, I’m going to be frustrated. Sexual tension can only go on so long. Enough is enough. And that’s the game plan for romances in series. When do the protagonist and hero resolve the back and forth and become a couple?

The next important question is What do they do after that? I have to say, Ilona Andrews and Anna Lee Huber are great with life after marriage. Instead of working separately to solve problems, the hero and heroine team up to work on them together. And that can be more fun than the romantic part. In M.L. Rigdon’s latest series, The Seasons of War, Torak works hard to win Sorda in book one and by book three, they’re battling the evil sorceress trying to overtake both of their countries together. After marriage…or becoming a couple…the hero and heroine become stronger as a team than they were separately.

Romance novels are almost always standalones. Boy meets girl. Boy struggles to win girl. Boy finally succeeds. But it’s a different process in a series. Then, the romance is a subplot, and it might go on book after book. I happen to enjoy the couples who become a working unit that’s hard to trick or defeat. But all’s fair in love and war. And to each his own.

Happy writing!

Themes in Writing

I finished reading Nancy Pickard’s Jenny Cain mystery MARRIAGE IS MURDER. When I was a young mother, I was hooked on Nancy Pickard, Carolyn G. Hart, Nevada Barr, Sharyn McCrumb, and Martha Grimes. All strong writers. So I was excited when I found a Nancy Pickard book that I hadn’t gotten to and started reading it with enthusiasm.

The book is good. The writing is great. But I felt like I was getting beat over the head with the theme of domestic violence, to the point, that the “who dunnit” sort of got lost. It’s been a long time since I read a Jenny Cain novel, but I don’t remember feeling that way about the others I read.

In this book, Jenny Cain is going to marry her cop fiancée, Geoff. He’s getting burned out, being a cop, and is thinking about quitting the force. In all honesty, this subplot could be taken from today’s headlines. Cops see everything–so much violence and ugliness. And in today’s social media, they get more criticism than support and praise. Who’d want to be a cop today? I’m not saying there aren’t bad ones. That’s another part of Pickard’s story. Geoff is paired with a new partner, and the reader can’t decide what to think of him. Neither can Geoff. But there are so many good cops who do work I’d never want to do and who don’t get the respect they deserve that Pickard’s story is timely. But she gives very few clues along the way about the murders and even loses track of the mystery amidst everything else going on in the book.

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The other subplot of the book is marriage itself. Jenny Cain is having second thoughts about marrying a cop. Not that I could blame her. Horrible hours. Things they can’t share. Is she making the right choice? I’ve been married to my HH for 51 years on this coming Sunday, August 21st, but I still vividly remember the morning of my wedding. I went to the gas station to fill my car with gas for our honeymoon. I’d reserved a romantic room at the Poconos for a week and then we were going to travel through New England for another week. (That’a a story for another day. Planning ahead isn’t always the best policy), but I had a full tank of gas, and I remember thinking that if I took off and drove far enough, no one could find me when I didn’t show for the ceremony. I knew I loved HH, but committing to something for a LIFETIME is a big deal, and it scared me. But then I thought about NOT having HH in my life, and I drove to the retired minister’s house where we were married. But Jenny’s thoughts and fears resonated with me. I understood them.

And right before Jenny was getting married, she was seeing the WORST side of marriages where husbands beat their wives, and the wives kept going back to them. Nancy Pickard was a reporter and editor before she wrote books. I’m guessing this story was triggered by something that really happened, something she felt passionate about. It was a great story, but I’m not sure it was a mystery. Still, any time spent with Nancy Pickard is time well spent.

The book made me think about THEMES, though. They often run through novels, but they’re an integral part of the story. Still, I’ve read more than a few books where the theme takes over the TYPE of story the author’s telling. And that’s too bad, because when I read a mystery, I want the mystery to be the main focus of the book. If I read a fantasy, I want fantasy. Themes are fine. They add a deeper level to any story, but if I wanted to read about domestic violence, that’s what I’d do. If it’s in a mystery, then it should CONTRIBUTE to the mystery. But everything in writing is about balance. There’s a lot to juggle–plot, pacing, characters, setting, tension, etc. The trick is to try to make them all work.

Happy writing!

We’ve Come So Far

I want to sing the praises of health care workers. HH went in to get his last 2 stents on Wednesday. We got to the hospital at six a.m., he went into surgery at eight, had an hour and a half procedure, and had to lay flat on his back for four hours, then they sent him home. TWO STENTS, and I brought him home a little after two. It felt like a miracle to me. I’m simply amazed. He’s a little tired today, but he feels great. Sometimes, I have to pinch myself at how many advances have happened so fast. Yes, I wish there were more. I wish there was a cure for every disease to mankind, but boy, have we made progress. And I’m sure there’s more to come. The sooner, the better.


No, I never wanted to join the circus or perform, but lately, Life has thrown more at me than usual, and I’m trying to write while juggling lots of other things. If something could wrong, it has. But that’s how life is, isn’t it? Murphy’s Law sometimes tops three. I feel like I’ve been buried in things gone wrong, but that’s the main point. Everything that’s gone wrong is fixable. Annoying, a bit scary, but fixable. And I always try to remember that. There are people facing far worse problems than I’m dealing with. Every single one of my problems has the potential for a happy ending. And that’s not true for everyone, is it?

Still, in and around everything, I’ve been writing. Not because I have so much discipline. Not because I’m so creative. But because planting my fanny in a chair and pounding out words makes me HAPPY. It helps me find balance. I can escape whatever’s happening around me for an hour or more. So, yes, writing–for me–is a selfish pleasure.

Sometimes, I ask myself: If I were rich as sin with a husband who adored me (which he does, silly man), more money than I knew what to do with, and no bumps anywhere——would I still be a writer? And I think the answer would still be a big yes. Writing makes me happy. I can’t imagine myself NOT doing it. Is it an addiction? Maybe. But if it is, I don’t care. Could something else take its place? I can’t imagine what it could be. It would have to be something really big that made me even happier. And I don’t see that happening.

I read a blog once that asked the question, “Why do you write?” And I guess the truth is, because if I don’t, I get stir-crazy, restless. I need the outlet. Writing keeps me…me.

So, for all of you writers out there, happy writing!

#MKTG 18 – Building an Email List

Jan Sikes has shared her experiences with marketing her books on Story Empire. I haven’t seen a more thorough list before. She’s been extremely generous to help the rest of us, struggling to promote our work. Today, she talks about BookSweeps.

Story Empire

Hello SE’ers. It’s Jan again with another book marketing tip I hope you’ll find helpful.

We’ve often said marketing is the hardest part of what we, as authors, have to do. And I believe that statement is true. Most of us would be more than satisfied to write our stories and let someone else push them. Unfortunately, unless you make a lot of money, that simply isn’t an option.

Throughout this series, we’ve taken a look at a lot of marketing avenues.

Courtesy Pixabay – geralt

Yet, one of the most highly recommended and useful marketing tools is a newsletter sent directly to your subscribers.

But how do we build a subscriber list?

Most of us have a newsletter signup form on our blogs or website. And many offer something free in exchange for an email address. That’s really great. But realistically, how many new subscribers do you get each…

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Hope you check this out

I’m a guest over on Harmony Kent’s blog today, talking about love, marriage, and kids in my latest Karnie Cleaver mystery, The Steaks Are High. I hope you check it out.

One nice thing about Twitter is “meeting” so many fellow writers you admire. And so many of them are generous with their time and talents. Harmoney is one of them for me. Lately, she wrote a powerful short story for the site Vocal, along with a short article about her battle with chronic pain.

While you’re at her blog, you can see the variety of novels she writes, too. I hope you enjoy her site!

I’m a little surprised

When I decided that my nice Detective Gaff was going to be forced to team up with Detective Caden, I knew that would make it so that he couldn’t work with Jazzi anymore. Gaff and Jazzi have solved eight mysteries together, but Caden doesn’t believe in citizens being involved in homicide investigations. And he’s decided to put an end to it. That felt right for Caden. And it made Gaff squirm.

When someone tries to frame the new employee of Jazzi’s dad for murder, her dad asks her to vouch for him with Gaff. But when she calls, Gaff tells her that he can’t share information with her anymore. And he strongly suggests that she sits this one out, because he doesn’t want to see her get in any trouble. Jazzi’s always thought Gaff was as much a friend as a cop. She’s disappointed. Then, Caden calls, warning her to keep her nose out of the case.

And that’s where Jazzi surprised me. She’s usually a nurturing, caring person. She shows her love for people by cooking for them. And she’s pretty easy-going. But Caden just rubs her the wrong way. And when he tells her to butt out, it just makes her more determined to do as she pleases. She doesn’t need his permission to talk to people. So she does. And the more Caden irritates her, the more she wants to find the killer before he does.

Ansel’s determined to keep her safe, so he goes with her wherever Gaff, at one time, would have. In the meantime, Gaff’s stuck in the middle and doesn’t like it. When he calls Jazzi these days, she lets him know she’s not happy with him. And that hurts. But what can he do? Nothing.

The set-up for this story is going to be fun to write. I designed a cover, but it will probably change before the end of the book. But it helps me picture Book Nine. It’s like a working title. I like to have some big things to pin ideas on, but I know they could be temporary. I’d like to find a more “dead” looking body to put in the wheelbarrow, but that’s proven trickier than I thought:)


I finally got my plot points done. I like to come up with 40 of them but only made it to 36 today. Still, that’s enough to start writing. I wanted to move the story to the birth of Jazzi and Ansel’s baby, but if I do that, I have to rearrange my entire timeline. I didn’t think about that before I started plotting, but it would take WAY too long to solve the murder if I waited for Toby to show up. So, he can’t arrive until book 10.

Like me, Jazzi’s as healthy as a horse while she’s pregnant. In fact, I was on a bowling league back then, and my scores got better and better the bigger I got. That took a while, though. I didn’t show for my first baby until I hit five months in. It was a different story for daughter 2. I showed really fast, and I got so big, my doctor swore I was going to have twins. Every time I went in, he checked for a second heartbeat. Turned out, only one baby took up all that space, and I lost the weight fast. Miracles do happen.

Anyway, I’m going to start writing tomorrow. Fanny in chair; fingers on keys. The nice thing about plotting ahead is that when I first started thinking about this book, I pictured some of the characters differently than it turned out I needed them to be. After working with them through all of the plot points, I know them pretty well. In my mind, Doc, the first suspect, was a quiet, ordinary sort of guy, but then Wheels, a later suspect, wouldn’t have been jealous of him. Each character sort of found his place in the story and developed as it limped along in the plotting stages. Then, for the first time, even though I knew who the killer was, I couldn’t figure out how Jazzi and Ansel could catch him at the end. I kept worrying about how to wrap up the book. And then I made a big pot of soup, and it came to me. That’s how my brain works somehow. No logic, just trusting it will finally get there eventually. I don’t like cutting it this close, though. The “got you” scene usually is a natural progression of the story, but in this book, Jazzi isn’t working with Gaff. She’s on her own. And that made it trickier.

While I remember, (because my brain can be a sieve at times), I want to mention that I’m going to publish this book when it’s finished as a culinary cozy mystery. I put two books up for free a while ago, and I marketed A Cut Above as a women sleuth for the first tag and a cozy mystery for the second tag. It went high enough in the ratings that IF it had been a culinary mystery, it would have made into the top 100 free mysteries a LOT sooner than it did. This time, I marketed Black Magic Can Backfire as a paranormal romance and it went into the top free 100 pretty soon, but when I’d marketed it as a fantasy mystery, it never came close. For fellow writers out there, how you label your book makes a difference! The broader the label, the more competition and the harder for readers to find. Just saying!

A Little More Personal

I’ve said on the blog a few times now that life has been a bit more frantic than usual, and I’m having trouble finding the time to write like I did before. This week, my husband had a heart attack, and I followed the EMS to the hospital. He had a 90% blockage of his front, central artery. His other two arteries were blocked, too. He’s LUCKY he’s still with us. I’m lucky he’s still with me.

He spent four days in the hospital, and they put stints in his central and right arteries. But he was getting too tired and too weak, so they’re going to wait a few weeks to put stints in his left artery. I brought him home on Tuesday. He slept most of the day and night, and then he slept huge amounts on Wednesday. Each time he wakes up, he’s a little better, a little stronger. It’s going to take a while. I’ve had a kazillion phone calls, but things are levelling out. I got to work on plot points most of the afternoon today. HH, of course, is my top priority.

He goes to the cardiologist’s clinic to have the next stints put in on Aug. 18. And then, who knows? Maybe he’ll have the drive and energy he used to have. Then I’m in trouble. He was always into something. I’m just glad he’s still with me. And then we’ll argue about me trying to make him take his pills, to exercise, to not eat that bowl of ice cream that’s calling to him. But that’s what makes life interesting:)

BUT, if I miss a day on twitter or forget to write a blog, that’s why. I kind of life the Old Poop, and I want him to stick around. And it takes energy to keep an eye on him because he hates to follow rules:) But he married a school teacher. He has no idea how strict I can be if I have to. He’d better shape up!

Hope you have a wonderful August!

It’s going to be trickier for Jazzi this time

I couldn’t have gotten a nicer compliment than to have a reader message me and ask if I was starting work on a new Jazzi and Ansel mystery yet. Boy, did that make me feel good! And yes, I am. I’m pounding out plot points, trying to find the right balance of keeping things in the story that readers like but making it fresh enough that it’s not just the same old, same old. That’s the thing about writing a series, at least, a cozy series. There are things readers expect and want, but at the same time, it’s hard to keep the series from becoming stale.

This time, Gaff isn’t going to work with Jazzi. The detective’s teamed up with Caden (who was in book 8) as a partner, and Caden doesn’t like a civilian involved in police work. Gaff’s worried, because he knows Jazzi will poke into things anyway, but he and Jazzi have to go their separate ways.

It’s not as hard for Jazzi to find information as Caden hopes because Doc, the man who’s the top suspect, works with her father. And Doc was taking the victim, Sparks, to small claims court. Sparks hired him to fix projects on his house, then didn’t want to pay him for “substandard work.” After talking to people, Jazzi realizes that was a pattern for Sparks. He smiled and complimented people while trying to cheat them. He also raced cars in the town’s demolition derbies, and she learns that Sparks wasn’t above cheating there either. Jazzi’s brother-in-law, Thane, loves the derbies and goes to enough of them to know most of the drivers. . . and the behind-the-scenes gossip. Which he’s happy to pass on to her.

I’m about halfway through my plot points right now and hope to finish them soon, so that I can start writing. Jazzi has to be good in this book because she’s pregnant and can’t do any heavy lifting. She and the guys are working on a new Greek Revival style house, and I’m busy trying to decide how they’re going to renovate it. I have lots of pictures torn out of magazines and stored on Pinterest to inspire me.

Between Jazzi’s pregnancy, the murder mystery, and a couple of subplots, I hope I have enough to make for a good book. I always feel like I’m coming home when I work on these stories. So, I hope the words flow. I hope YOUR words flow, too.

Happy writing!