I love being a critique partner!

My fellow writer friend and I exchange manuscripts. We’re a good match, and that’s not so easy to find. There are many, many wonderful critique readers out there, but only a few that click with me and what I write. M.L. Rigdon/Julia Donner and I appreciate each other’s style and stories. I sharpen my red pencils to read her manuscripts, and she gleefully bloodies mine…but only gently and generously. We’re fans of each other’s works and only mark things that trip us up or don’t work for us. I don’t want her to write like I do, and she doesn’t try to change me..

Right now, she’s given me her next Regency romance to critique. I love Regency novels, both romances and mysteries. I love historical settings. So I’m a happy reader. And the truth is, I just plain enjoy Julia Donner’s writing style. So this doesn’t FEEL like work to me. It feels like I get to be naughty and peek at the book before anyone else gets to see it. Score one for me!

My daughter, Holly, reads my manuscripts, too. But what’s nice about her feedback is that she reads them as a READER. I know, that may sound odd. But readers notice things that writers don’t. We have different hang-ups. Holly tells me when she loses interest and puts the pages down for a while. She tells me if a character didn’t pull her in. It doesn’t matter if the writing and the words all work. She just wants to be pulled into the story and stay there. She wants to be disappointed when the book ends. M.L. marks when I tell, don’t show, when I go off track and my tension sags and she loses the storyline. And that’s sometimes the same. But Holly doesn’t care as much about skill as she does story. And occasionally, that’s a different thing.

For me, I think I’ve found a perfect balance. I get to read M.L. Rigdon’s/Julia Donner’s books, and I have a writer AND a reader who read my stuff. Once in a while, I get lucky and Kathleen Palm lets me see one of her manuscripts (horror or YA or Middle Grade), and once in a while, she’ll read something of mine and give me feedback. She reminds me to focus on feelings/descriptions/internal dialogue. I rarely look at anyone else’s work or ask them to look at mine. Honestly, I just don’t have the time, but recently, I read Jennifer Bee’s soon-to-be released thriller, THE KILLING CAROL, and it was a great read. I hope it has huge success when it’s released.

For the moment, I’ve found a happy fit for my work. Finding the right critique partner/s is a wonderful thing. If you’re a writer, I hope you find your perfect fit. The right person helps you catch things you don’t see and he or she does his/her best to make your writing as good as it can be.

Short stories

I love short stories. I love reading them. I love writing them. That’s why every once in a while, I post one on the blog. I think of an idea that I just can’t say no to. So I write it and put it up here. I just finished reading Mae Clair’s short story collection, THINGS OLD AND FORGOTTEN.

I invited Mae to my blog to talk about it later this month, (on the 26th), but I couldn’t wait to tell you how much I loved the collection. It has a little bit of many things I love. Some fantasy, beautiful language, and stories that wriggle into your brain to stay a while. And right now, it’s only 99 cents.

I’ll let Mae tell you more about her work when she stops by, but for now, I’m just saying, I haven’t bought anything for less than a buck that I’ve enjoyed so much for a long time.


I recently read D.L. Finn’s post on the Story Empire blog. It was about retaining the child in you and putting the fun back into writing. https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2021/10/06/writing-and-fun/ I admire people who can keep the enthusiasm and joy of their youth. I’m not sure I ever had it to begin with, though. According to my mom, I was born a skeptic and a somber sides. And she didn’t say that just to bug me. I believe each child comes out of the womb with their own personality intact, and all parents and adults can do is work with what they get. Mom swears I was born “an old soul.”

Now, I’m not saying I don’t enjoy life. I do. I take pleasure in all kinds of things–my flower beds, cooking, kids and friends. I’m a happy person, but not a carefree one. Fun is for special occasions. And I’m fine with that. My husband says I think too much. And maybe I do.

My kids loved to visit one of the neighborhood moms, because she was FUN. She was sort of a kid herself, always up for a good time. Lots of laughter. Playful. The same kids loved to hang out at our house, because I was always there for them. We each have our own strengths. But D.L. Finn’s post, which obviously stuck with me, made me think about childhood.

I had a mom and dad who loved me. I had two sisters who were my best friends. Our lives were secure. Good. The nine kids who grew up across the street from us were mostly neglected and left to their own devices. The boy who lived next door to them had a mom who chased him into the front yard when she was angry, knocked him down, and kicked him until my mom would go out and yell, “Stop! Now. Or I’m making a call.” And all of those kids grew up fine.

I thought about them when I was reading another Louis Kincaid mystery by P.J. Parrish, THE DAMAGE DONE. Nothing in Louis’s childhood was happy. His life didn’t get better until he was twelve. The focus of the book is on childhood abuse and things from the past that get so deeply buried, they have to be dug up to be released. Only then can a person be freed from them to move on. When I realized the book’s theme, I was worried. Like me, Louis isn’t a carefree type of guy, and unlike me, he usually ends each book disappointed by something in his life. It was a nice surprise when Louis actually works through some of the baggage he’s been carrying for a long time. Each person on his new cold case team has emotional baggage, and my hope is that each book in the future deals with how each of his colleagues frees himself from his past. It might be too much to hope for, but it would be nice.

I taught elementary school for six years before I had my girls and before the rules changed so that I couldn’t go back to teaching. (I got my Master’s Degree and priced myself out of the job market. Maybe a good thing or I would have never started writing. Who knows? Maybe it was destiny, but I wasn’t too happy about it at the time).

Anyway, I taught fist grade twice, second grade twice, and fourth grade twice. And I learned this. Some kids are going to succeed no matter what the odds are. Some kids have all kinds of brains and talent and don’t care. Some kids have wonderful parents and make a mess of their lives. Some have horrible parents and rise above them. But boy, each disadvantage stacked against a kid just makes it that much harder for him. It’s not impossible. It’s just hard. In The Damage Done, Louis and his team have all been damaged by life, but they all have the means to put their pasts behind them. Not true of the villain/killer in the story. He’s damaged beyond repair.

A SPOILER ALERT. STOP NOW IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW. The killer’s brother doesn’t think so when it happens, but he gets lucky when their father rejects him and gives him to someone else to raise. It leaves a terrible scar, but the brother has hope at the end of the book. Maybe. The villain thinks being his dad’s favorite is a blessing. It’s not. And sometimes, life is like that, isn’t it? What looks good isn’t, and what we curse, ends up saving us.

Surviving the C-word

First off, we got lucky. My sister went in for a routine annual check-up. Since she’d had pre-cancer two year ago, her doctor ordered a C-scan just as routine. The scan came back with a blob near a lymph node and two dark spots on her lung. He was going to be on call and couldn’t see her for a week after that, so she chose to go in for a PET scan and then waited to see him until early this morning. She asked me to go with her, worried she’d fall apart if she heard bad news, so that I could ask questions and drive her home.

It’s been a miserable time while we waited. But when we went in this morning, good news! The blob is a benign cyst and the spots are nodules of some kind. We were elated, but by the time my sister left this morning, I was exhausted. My husband and I talked for a while, then I plopped my fanny in my writing chair to get some word count for the day. And I actually made some progress, but by late afternoon, I crashed.

The worry has worn me out. I haven’t slept very well. Neither has she. I’ve tried to do more with her….just in case. At two-thirty, I grabbed my blankie and took a nap. Tomorrow, I go to writers’ club, and I’ll probably be tired again. I thought I was coping well, and I was. But the effort took a toll.

I know it could have been a lot worse. We went through the whole chemo and radiation routine with my cousin who has cerebral palsy. My sister’s C-scan showed up in the exact same spots. I’m so glad the outcome is different! Cancer survivors are so brave. The people who support them are so wonderful. The people who treat them deserve praise.

HH’s best friend is in Indy right now, fighting blood cancer. My dad died of that. They took out his healthy white blood cells, then killed all of the ones that were left, and soon, they’ll inject his healthy white cells back in him. In the meantime, he has NO immune system. None. He’ll have to get all of his baby shots again for mumps, measles, whooping cough….you name it. He’s facing the whole ordeal with the most positive attitude I’ve ever seen. And hopefully, it will buy him another ten years of health.

My sister, HH’s friend, and I have stayed as positive as we can. But once their ordeals were over for the moment, I took a nap. Being positive made me tired. If I had a magic wand, I’d wish you all health, happiness, and writing success. But I only write about witches, and even with magic, they have struggles of their own. I write about murderers, but not about diseases. Those are almost scarier. But for the moment, my sister has a reprieve. Once I catch up on sleep, I’m going to enjoy that.

Three Act Structure: Act I

Awesome post on writing! Thought I’d share.

Story Empire

Hi, Gang. Craig with you again today. It occurred to me that I’ve mentioned Three Act Structure several times on this site, but never posted anything about it before. That ends today.

This is a great way of plotting your stories, but it’s so much more than that. It will keep you on point with word count, and make sure you have a structure others can follow when they read. I use it along with my storyboards. I may slip a comment about storyboards into this series, but they aren’t required for you to take tips and tricks away.

Act I Climax

Since there are three acts, I intend to have four posts. It makes more sense that way, and you’ll see why when we get to Act Two. Act One is 20-25% of your story. Act Two is 50% (Why the extra post), Act Three is 20-25% of your…

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Throwing SHADE at Your Sentences

Staci Troilo wrote a great post on writing technique for Story Empire, so I thought I’d share it with you:

Story Empire

hooded man

Ciao, SEers! Yeah, I know “throwing shade” is an insult. I promise, that’s not what I mean. I just wanted to get your attention. Do I have it? Great!

When I was in school, we learned about the four types of sentences:

  • declarative (statement)
  • interrogative (question)
  • imperative (command)
  • exclamative (exclamation/shout of surprise)

Our teachers told us we could remember these by the first letters of the words: DIIE, or the elongating the word “die” as a mnemonic device. I didn’t think a mnemonic device was necessary for four simple concepts, especially one that didn’t really work, but it made them happy, so whatever.

Today, I think we all know those four sentence types about as well as we know our own names, without any memory tricks. (Especially ones that don’t quite work.) But I want to discuss five different sentence types that we use in our fiction, and I…

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Suggestions (because there are no rules)

Okay, the first thing to say is that every writer is different. What works for one person doesn’t work for the next one. But there are things that work more often than others. That still doesn’t mean they’ll be right for you. So here’s a list of suggestions for writers I’ve met recently:

  1. Just Write. We all have to start somewhere, and the more you write, the better you’ll get. Usually. (Almost all the time). I wrote a few un-brilliant books before I started reading self-help “How To Sell Your Books” or “How To Be a Better Writer” books. My favorite is still Jack Bickham’s SCENE AND STRUCTURE. My second favorite’s Dwight Swain. I loved Stephen King’s book because…well, it sounded like Stephen King. I liked Elizabeth George’s book on writing for the same reason. I bought Donald Maas’s book on how to be a bestseller and agree with him. High stakes and emotional impact bring more readers. I’m glad I waited to read those books, though, and just wrote what I wanted for a while. I was all the better for it. Because if I hadn’t been struggling with how to organize a book, how to show not tell, how to balance everything etc., those books wouldn’t have resonated enough with me.

2. It’s easier if you know your genre. I stuck to the advice, Write What You Know. But not the way you think. I wrote mysteries because I READ a lot of mysteries. I’d read so many of them, I knew the structure, the rhythm, what was out there, what was selling at the moment. And I got wonderful rejection notes back from editors, telling me they liked my writing, they liked the story, but they couldn’t buy it. Because the market was glutted.

3. If you’re beating your head against a wall–STOP IT. And this is a VERY personal piece of advice. But I can tell you this from personal experience, not everything is about how well you write. If a market takes off, and every publisher wants one horror/cozy/thriller/sci-fi for their list, and you’re the next author who sends one in, your odds are good. If you’re the 50th author, good luck to you! You probably won’t sell. The market is GLUTTED. Every slot every editor has for that market is full. Try writing something else. Your odds will be better.

4. You can write more than one thing. Yes, your first love might be cat mysteries like Lillian Jackson Braun’s where Whiskers and Stripes talk to each other and figure out how to help their human. They’re fun. But if you write a good one that doesn’t sell (even though you get good feedback on it), and the next one doesn’t sell, and the one after that, maybe it’s time to change things up. Try to write something out of your comfort zone. And yes, you can. Just study it and know what works.

5. Advice is a wonderful thing. I still love to read writing blogs about what other writers do and what works for them, but not all of what they say is right for you. I have a fellow writer who’s a friend who takes EVERY piece of feedback or advice seriously. NOT a good idea. Every person likes different things. I could read the best noir anyone ever wrote and not like it. It’s not my thing if it’s too dark. I’m not a true P.I. fan either. So if I read a manuscript, my advice might actually make the story WORSE, not better. Feedback is just that. One person’s opinion. It took me a while to find critique partners who worked for me. The first time I gave my manuscript to someone, there was so much red ink, it looked like my manuscript had bled to death and died. I was ready to shoot my keyboard and give up UNTIL I realized that my critique partner wanted me to write exactly like she did. I loved her writing, but I’m not her. That’s not what feedback is for. It’s to make YOUR writing and voice shine. All feedback does is offer ideas about what worked and what didn’t work–for that person–in your manuscript. I mark what I liked and what I didn’t like so much, and know that the author might not pay any attention to me. And that’s the way it should be. BUT, if you show it to a few people, and they all have the same problem, then you might want to take a serious look at their comments and think about them. But even then, you have to do what’s right for you.

6. When I first started writing, people kept telling me to “just write the whole thing, whatever comes to you, and then go back to edit it. and do rewrites.” That does not work for me. I’m a lazy person by nature. Looking at a manuscript full of mistakes was too overwhelming. Once I started to edit as I go, my writing improved dramatically.

7. Don’t curl up and die when you get too many rejections. First, a rejection just means that an agent or editor can’t sell what you sent him. For many reasons. He might have sold three cozies in the last month and has hit up all the editors he knows that buy those. He hates children’s books and won’t like yours no matter how good it is. Your style of writing just doesn’t click with him. He’s waiting for a sci-fi novel about a paranoid android and your android’s too perky and self-confident. Writing and reading is SUBJECTIVE. Editors look for books that fill slots. When they get an urban fantasy, they want a book that follows the rules for the genre, but then add a new twist to it. Break the rules at your own peril. Ilona Andrews has written many blogs with great writing advice. She got more rejections than people would think when she started out. Here’s her blog on writing: https://www.ilona-andrews.com/category/writing/articles/

8. My last bit of advice is personal, because it’s what works for me. And I’m thinking about people who are gearing up for NaNoWriMo. Plan ahead. I’m a plotter. I write a brief paragraph for every chapter in my book to know what I want it to accomplish. I often end up with 40 -45 plot points. And those notes save me a LOT of time. I still let my characters go off track and surprise me AS LONG AS they keep to the basic plot points and don’t change them. NONE of my writing friends outline like I do, and they ALL write great books. But they all have some idea where each book is going before they start it. It saves them a lot of rewriting.. M.L. Rigdon/Julia Donner writes down four twists that will move her plots forward. As long as she hits those goalposts, she knows she’s on the right track. Her characters motivate her more than a plot does, so, like Mae Clair, she’s more of a plantser. https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2021/09/27/its-time-to-start-planning-for-november-nanowrimo/. Find what works for you, but know, pantsers usually have a lot of rewrites.

9. Trust yourself. Find what works for you and try it. If it doesn’t work, try something else. And have fun writing!

Isn’t that the way it goes?

I reached the one-fourth point on my Jazzi 8 pages. It feels good to be back with her working on houses and cooking Sunday meals while solving a murder. So, what did I think of today? A great subplot for a Karnie Cleaver mystery. Her brother, Porter, annoyed me so much in book one that I decided to mess with him a bit. Isn’t that how it usually goes? When I work on one book, the idea for another pops in my mind.

This time, the ideas came earlier than usual. Most of the time, they wait until I’m fussing because I’m in the middle of the muddle of my current book. They’re tempting then, not so enticing now while I’m still having fun writing the set-up and adding depth to suspects. I base the butcher shop Karnie works at on our local shop, though, with its loyal customers and helpful workers at the counter. So when I go to buy smoked pork chops or special cuts of meat, I think of her.

My critique partner and writer friend, M.L. Rigdon/Julia Donner, has bugged me (no, make that SUGGESTED) that I write the first chapter of a new book at the end of each book that I finish. A good idea. It gives a reader an idea of what’s coming next in the story lines. But, it’s forced me to think of the next book in the series before I finish the one I’m working on. And that’s made it so that I can load it on Scapple and start playing with ideas for it before I’m ever ready to write it. C.S. Boyack does that all the time with his storyboards: https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/?s=story+boards, and after reading his post about developing stories, I tried it and liked it.

Right now, I have a Scapple board for Karnie and Matt, one for Laurel and Nick from Posed in Death, one for Lux and Keon, and one for the next Jazzi. That should let my mind wander when it needs a break. And I shouldn’t run out of things to write for a long time. But for the moment, it’s back to The Body in the Buick. I like Vince, the victim, and I want his murderer brought to justice.

It Sucks to be an Ex

What goes in but doesn’t always come back out? Prisoners. In my Jazzi and Ansel cozy, The Body in the Apartment, I introduced Jarrett, a man who’s been in and out of prison and doesn’t want to return. He’s really trying to find a job, a place to live, and go straight, but most people don’t think an ex-con will stay an ex. That’s when Jerod’s dad, Eli, decides to give him a break and hires him to work in his garage.

In the book I’m working on now, Jarrett returns as a character. He’s still working as a mechanic for Eli, and he and Brianne are living rent-free in an apartment because he works as a part-time maintenance man, fixing whatever needs done there. She goes to school to become a hairdresser and he’s taking classes to get certified for working on foreign cars. All is going well for them until Vince, a mechanic Jarrett likes and respects, begins cheating customers to skim money. Jarrett catches him and warns him to stop or he’ll turn him in. Vince keeps doing it. Vince was nice to Jarrett when he first started working in the garage. He taught him the ropes, but Eli was even nicer to him, so Jarrett does what he doesn’t want to…and tells Eli what Vince is doing. Eli fires him, and two days later, Vince gets killed.

Jake, a fellow mechanic, immediately blames Jarrett. “Once a criminal, always a criminal.” But Eli wants to know the truth and asks Jazzi to ask around to see if she can learn anything. Everyone agrees that something big was bothering Vince or he’d have never cheated customers or stooped to stealing money from Eli. And everyone suspects the problem had something to do with Vince’s brother, Kevin. Kevin loses one job after another, always has money problems, and always turns to Vince for help. This time, helping his brother might have been the death of him.

I’ve finished the first fourth of The Body in the Buick, and the set-up kept me thinking. Now I’m starting the second fourth, and Jazzi and Gaff start digging for answers. Lots more words to go!

Oh, forgot to say. Happy October!

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: