It worked

I’m a little obsessed with plotting.  And there are LOTS of ways to do it.  Some people don’t need to do it at all–I’m jealous. But for me?  I need all the help I can get to keep words and ideas moving for a 70,000+ book.

After all these years of writing, I still like to read about the CRAFT of writing off and on, just to keep me on my toes.  And hopefully, my writing will keep getting better.  I still have flaws, and I know it.  So does my writers club:)  For new ideas, I recommend Story Empire:   Staci Troilo is writing about plotting on that site right now–a method I’ve never heard of–the Nutshell Method. 

For a long time now, I’ve divided my books into four parts with a plot point twist at the end of each one.  Once I know those twists, I write plot points for every chapter in the book.  And that’s worked for me, but I wanted MORE.  I use a character wheel to develop important characters in the story, and that works really well, too.  But…surely, there was something else to make my mysteries sharper?  stronger?  So I came with a list of questions to answer BEFORE I started work on my plot points.  And boy, am I happy with what I came up with.  I think I finally have a good balance.  At least, for me.  And mysteries.  You might be able to fiddle with the questions for other genres, but since I don’t write those…well,…you’re on your own.

Anyway, I’m playing with an idea for a new cozy mystery.  The premise popped in my head and wouldn’t leave.  Kept bugging me.  But that’s ALL that came to mind.  So…syymied…I turned to my list of questions.  Suddenly, suspects and witnesses filled my head, the victim ended up as the dead body she deserved to be, and my series characters flexed their muscles and showed their true selves.

If you’re writing a mystery and would like to try the questions, here they are:

  1. Who is killed (at least, the first person) or what is the crime?
  2. Who commits it? And how?  (step by step so no holes or confusion)
  3. WHY Is it committed?
  4. Who are the suspects and why? (At least two, more’s better)
  5. Any witnesses? Does someone see something that looks suspicious?  Any innocent bystanders?
  6. What’s the ending? (I always know this before I write)
  7. Any special clue or red herring? Any alibis or fake alibis?  Accusations?  False arrests?
  8. A subplot (something going on with a character other than the crime)
  9. A smaller subplot.

These questions helped me.  Doesn’t mean they’ll work for you.  But whatever method you like, happy writing!


When I first thought of asking authors I admire to join me in an anthology, I asked a few of my close writing friends if they’d try to write a mystery for me.  And I got blank stares.  Okay.  Totally fair.  Because not one of them has ever written a mystery.  I got it.  But I really wanted them to write a story for me.  So I thought of an idea.

“What if we use the game Clue to inspire us?”

The game itself is copyrighted.  But I didn’t really want to base it on the game or movie.  I just wanted to help my friends get ideas for mysteries.

“What if we each choose a room?  A weapon?  And a color?  And use those in our stories somehow.”

I ended up picking Miss Peacock with a wrench in the kitchen as loose inspiration for my story.  Miss Peacock became Earnestine Peabody, a nosy busybody who’s trying to dig up dirt on the volunteer decorators who are working on a grand, old house in River Bluffs to sell so that the profits go to charities.  Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod sign up to renovate the kitchen, dining room, and half bath to help support the food banks in their town.  And as it happened, Earnestine was killed in the kitchen but stuffed in a hall closet, but that’s all right, because the game was only supposed to inspire us, not to be taken too seriously.

Which was a good thing.  Because my fellow writers went in all kinds of directions with the stories they wrote.  Mr. Plum evolved into a plum room in an attic, haunted by two ghosts, when Kathleen Palm sent me her psychological horror mystery.  I can’t say much more without giving away the plot.  Julia Donner, not content with one murder weapon, chose two for her humorous Regency mystery.  The poor victim had a bell pull wrapped around his neck and then he was whacked with a candlestick to finish the job.  And C.S. Boyack couldn’t find a weapon to his liking, so chose his own.  Had to.  A knife, revolver, wrench, rope, candlestick, or lead pipe wouldn’t harm Jason Fogg when he transformed. Mae Clair chose the hall, but put that hall in a castle for her medieval whodunnit.  And Rachel Sherwood Roberts made the conservatory the pivot point of her literary mystery.  D.P. Reisig decided against the regular weapons, too, and introduced one I’ve never heard of, a slung-shot, but it definitely sounded deadly.

So, even though we used Clue to get our little grey cells working,–and really, that’s all we needed it for–we all went in our own directions once it sparked ideas.  It served its purpose.  So from this day on, I’ll enjoy it as a game, a movie, and now as inspiration.



Mystery Musings

Humor.  It’s such a great antidote.  That’s why I was so happy that C.S. Boyack and Julia Donner wrote two humorous mysteries for the anthology I put together.  When I read Craig’s Jason Fogg story, I smiled all the way through it.  The premise of a detective who can dissolve into…yup, you guessed it…fog…was so much fun.  And his delivery…well, if you’ve read any of his books, it was fun, too.  Here’s a short blurb of his mystery From the Files of Jason Fogg:

They probably don’t even recognize me in the building, because I usually skipped the lobby and went for my upstairs window. I always left myself a way inside and squeezing through a tiny crack was a piece of cake. The back room was perfect for reforming because there are no windows. No sense in flashing the neighbors across the street. After making myself presentable, I checked the mail. Nothing but bills. Maybe Riley was right about this job.

My bus pass was in the top drawer, and I grabbed some business cards for good measure. “Jason Fogg Detective Agency.” Has a nice ring to it. On the way out, I scooped up a garbage bag with a change of clothes. Jeans and red flannel, it’s practically the uniform of Seattle.

People on the bus commented about the lovely weather. Honestly, I prefer a good downpour but simply agreed with them.

Craig’s a natural at writing with humor, but I think it’s a tricky voice to accomplish.  He seems to manage it with ease.  So does Julia Donner in the Regency mystery she sent for the collection.  The minute I saw her scene titles, I knew I was in for a treat.

Murder at a Garden Party

or The Unpleasantness in the Study

West London

May 1818

Scene 1

Wherein Suspects Are Introduced

See?  No “Body in the Study.”  Regencies are all about good manners.  A corpse is merely an “Unpleasantness.”  I loved it!  I loved the entire story.  Here’s a little to tease you:

Under the pavilion’s roof, guests more interested in the topic of the murder than in the balloon spectacle huddled in groups, whispering while striving to contain offended sensibilities. Understandably, the brutal slaying of Lord Mainspout would deign Lady Brilliant’s assembly either a social coup or a doomed disgrace.

Peregrine lifted his hand to tap away a yawn with the backs of his fingers. “It is indeed astonishing what a lady will get up to when it comes to making herself the most talked about hostess in London. I had thought a balloon ascension a rather desperate measure. A dead body is truly above and beyond.”

“One shouldn’t have to contrive to this extent.”

“But they lack your intelligence and style, m’dear. Patience, Lizzie. Sir Hector and Lady Brilliant have better ton than to allow themselves to get caught up in a vulgar controversy. Do you think the butler did it?”

“Oh, do be serious. If we must loiter about waiting for the magistrate and his tedious questions, tell me about the guests to keep me occupied. I know all of them superficially. Guessing who is responsible for the unpleasantness in the study will pass the time.”

He chuckled and discretely tickled the inside of her left wrist. “You are deliciously heartless today, Lady Asterly. And speculation would present a method for keeping extreme boredom at bay whilst we wait. I must warn you that other than this lovely house and park on the veritable edge of town, Sir Hector and Lady Brilliant are a crashingly boring pair.”

“There is no such word as crashingly.”

“If the shoe fits.”

I’ve loved Peregrine and Elizabeth since I first read about them in The Heiress and the Spy.

It was lovely to see them in a short story.

But there you have it.  Two mysteries.  Both filled with humor.  And yet so different.  That’s what makes writing so wonderful.  We each come to it with our own voice, our own styles.  I hope these two samples of stories catch your interest so that you take a peek at Murder They Wrote.  It includes 7 different authors and 7 different approaches to murder:)

Calming Down

Things have been more scrunched for time for me lately.  Life does that.  Sends you way too many things at the same time to see if you survive.  I have, but I’m really ready for life to slow down a bit.  I feel like I’ve been juggling too many balls and I barely got through without them all crashing down.

I’m not looking for sympathy, because I’ve worked through most of it, but my sister died, and then my other sister had to endure three surgeries really close together, and my cousin–who lived with Patty and now will live with Mary–has all kinds of health issues, and Mary couldn’t lift more than twenty pounds.  You’d be surprised how much that limits you.  None of it’s been horrible, but it’s all been trying.

Mary, with HH and my help, has been trying to empty Patty’s house to sell, and Jenny fell three times so that I had to spend the night sleeping in a recliner to keep an eye on her.  My sister Mary has done much, much more, so I’m only backup.  But it’s been rough.  On top of that, I’ve been writing and editing, and living my life.  I’ve had writing meetings at my house.  Because of Covid, we can’t meet in our usual room.  And I’ve been cooking for HH and me and sending leftovers to my sister (she hates to cook), and cooking for Scribes (because I love them) and cooking for kids whenever they come up to see us.

And I’ve loved all the good things.  Survived the bad things.  But I’m SO grateful it looks like we’re going to have a few weeks of down time.  I’m really ready for days with no pressure.  And I feel like a wimp, because Mary still has crap to deal with it, but I can’t help her with it.  I’m not power of attorney, so it’s all on her.  And I feel bad for her, but I have to admit, it’s going to be nice that I can’t do anything for a while, except send leftovers to her and my cousin.  Which they love and appreciate, and that even makes me feel tacky, because the leftovers are no big deal.

BUT, I think I’m going to have time to start plot points for my next Jazzi book (#7).  AND I got an idea for a new series–which I have no idea how I’ll find time to write, but the idea won’t go away.  SO, I’m going to plot out both books because I finally can write, then stop, then write again, until I figure out what I want to do.  And I’m not going to be rushed.  And that’s wonderful.  So I’m going to give both books time to unravel themselves and come to life for me.  And I’m grateful.

Hope you’re writing, too. May the Muse smile on you:)


Our grandson, Nate, gets out of the Marines on Oct. 13 and is moving to Indianapolis to settle for a while and start school on the G.I. bill.  We’ve been looking forward to it for a long time.  We live about 2 hours away but within driving distance.  And we asked him what he’d like to celebrate his becoming a civilian.  He used to cook with me when he was growing up and loves puttering in the kitchen, so he said he wanted a great start on kitchen products.

He told that to the right person:)  Nate and I still talk recipes, so little by little–(we’ve had almost half a year), I’ve been buying him kitchen gear.  He has 51 more days before he’s released from duty, and we’ve bought him a huge set of pots and pans, a Geoffrey Zakarian cast-iron grill with a heavy top to smash hamburgers and steaks, dishes, silverware, casserole dishes, a stoneware 9 x 13 pan, a Ninja multi-cooker, spatulas and cooking spoons, and much, much more.  I’m going to start stocking him up on spices and seasonings next, then glassware and mugs.  His kitchen will be better stocked than we ever had when HH and I started out.

It made me think of girls I knew when I was young who had hope chests.  They started them in high school and collected all kinds of things they thought they’d need when they got married.  I wasn’t sure that would ever happen to me, so I never had one, but I had lots of friends who did.  I don’t know if girls still do that, but it was popular when I was in school.  Then, on top of that memory, our good friend Ralph Miser told me about a friend who bought a house and found a young girl’s treasure box in its attic.  The girl had saved all kinds of things that made her happy–pretty rocks, a science fair ribbon from school, good report cards, and little odds and ends that she’d collected.

When Ralph told me about the treasure box, it made me think of a story for my Jazzi and Ansel cozy series.  I wanted them to buy a fixer-upper and find a treasure chest in a locked bedroom full of a young girl’s journals and prizes.  When Jazzi looks the girl up online, she learns that she was pushed off a balcony shortly before her high school graduation and her murder was never solved.

I grew really fond of Jessica, but it was her treasure chest that enchanted me.  A box full of memories and a promise of potential that never came to be.

twitter post for The Body From the Past


How sad.  Jazzi thinks so, too, and is determined to find who pushed her to her death.  Hope for the future is such a powerful thing, it’s sad when it’s destroyed.  That’s what happens in The Body From the Past.  And it was interesting to explore it.  I’m going to start plot points for my seventh Jazzi mystery soon, with a different theme, and I’m looking forward to it.


Whatever the theme is for your writing now, enjoy.  And Happy Writing!


An Abundance of Riches

Okay, I might have outsmarted myself.  I can’t seem to get this timing thing quite right.  I liked C.S. Boyack’s idea of writing two manuscripts at the same time so much, I managed to finish a few things all close together.  And then what do you do?

I don’t know how I managed it, but I ended up with three finished projects–my last Muddy River short read, a new Lux novel, and an anthology I put together with friends–back to back of each other.  It feels awesome!  But I don’t want to try to market too many things at the same time.  One of the contributors to the anthology, C.S. Boyack, put his new book,  HMS Lanternfish, on sale on August 8.  He’s been writing guest posts to promote it on other peoples’ blogs since it came out.  That takes a lot of time and work.  He’s starting storyboards for new books, too.  So I didn’t want to crowd his book’s debut too much.  And I wanted lots of people to find it.  I just finished reading it, and boy, was it fun!

I can’t wait too long on the anthology, though.  My fifth Jazzi Zanders mystery comes out on Sept. 22, and I want to give myself some time to promote the anthology before Lyrical steps up marketing for The Body From the Past.  So, I’ve decided to put up MURDER THEY WROTE on August 27.  That feels like a happy medium for both Craig and me.

And as for the new Lux book?  It’s polished and ready to go, but I’m going to hold it in the wings for a while until Jazzi and the anthology get a fair shot of my time.  A hard thing for me to do.  I hate waiting.  I did a lot of extra work on this Lux, and I’m really happy with it.  It has to get in line, though.  And when I think about it, I guess there are worse problems a writer could have:)

While I’m waiting, I have half of the plot points done for Jazzi 7, so I want to finish those and start work on the next Jazzi mystery.  That should keep me out of trouble for a while:)  And since I mentioned the anthology, here’s a little teaser.  I think it turned out pretty special!New Release


I have one more scene to write to finish the draft for my short Muddy River story.  It has to be big and impressive…so I put it off until tomorrow.  It’s not something to write at the END of the writing day.  I’m going to struggle to pull it off.  But all battles, even the small ones, have to be important to create some kind of tension.

Not all battles involve weapons.  Inner battles can prove as difficult as sword and sorcery.  Maybe a character needs to overcome doubt to find the courage to go after his or her dream.  Maybe he has a habit to break, a health issue to overcome, or something to prove to himself.  Mae Clair posted a flash fiction today with a story that said a lot with only a few words.  The twin in the story learned that he didn’t have to impress anyone other than himself.

Most stories have internal and external battles for the protagonist to wrestle with.  Characters have lots of hurdles to cross before they reach the end of a book.  I recently finished reading Krista Davis’s THE DIVA COOKS A GOOSE.  It’s a cozy mystery, and I really enjoyed it.  No serial killer stalked innocent victims and no gritty crime scenes made me cringe.  But I gladly turned pages because nearly every character struggled with something.  One of the suspects was stuck in a dead end job and wanted to own a bakery.  Another was in love with his friend’s fiancé.  The diva was trying to entertain her family over the holidays and solve a murder.  The joy of mysteries is that, most often, someone wants something enough to kill for it.  Learning the suspects’ motives is as much fun as finding the clue that solves the case.

I hope all of your battles are small and you emerge a conqueror.   Happy Writing!


Small things

We’ve all heard it before and know that it’s true.  Small things make a difference.  I know that if I write one chapter every weekday, I’ll have a book sooner than later.  But not everyone can do that.  I read a blog by Stuart Danker (whom I met on my blog), and he wrote a novel by writing 250 words a day.  I’ve met writers who are weekend warriors who only write on Saturdays and Sundays and end up with novels.  We all have to find our own path to writing.  And no one thing is right for everyone.  BUT, small things add up to bigger things.  Of that, I’m sure.  And it doesn’t just make a difference in writing.

My youngest sister is trying to clean out my sister Patty’s house to put it up for sale.  I mentioned my sister’s death a while ago.  Patty loved THINGS.  Cleaning out Patty’s house is a . . . chore.  Her house made me border on claustrophobic.  Every inch of wall space was filled.  Knickknacks were everywhere.  Pictures hung everywhere. It was almost overwhelming.

But on Saturday, I put on my crappy work clothes and met Mary there to start sifting through the big stuff.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’m only small time help.  Mary’s doing all of the day to day, ugly stuff.  I’m just there for heavy labor.  BUT, Mary hates to cook.  Since we were meeting at one, I said I’d bring lunch.  Mary loves spaghetti, so I made a huge pot of that.  Enough for leftovers.  And, it made Mary so happy, it made me feel bad.  I take her and my cousin Jenny leftovers every other night, so that Mary doesn’t have to cook right now, but it made me realize what a small thing made so much difference to her.  That, and having a body show up so that she didn’t feel so alone.

It made me think about what makes the biggest impact in everyday life.  Sure, I have big goals that I’d like to reach.  But those goals come one step at a time.  Sometimes, one increment at a time.  And there are plenty of failures to make me feel that I’m not making any headway at all.  But what sustains me?  The small everyday joys of life.  My HH.  Friends.  Family.  Pets.  Anything that offers hope and sustenance.  When my rankings go up on Amazon.  When I get a good review.  Small things make a big difference.

In the very beginning of my writing endeavors, I was happy when I got a “good” rejection from an editor, when someone took the time to write a personal note on why they turned down my manuscript.  (And I will forever love Richard Chizmar from Cemetery Dance because of his nice rejections).  Ruth Cavin ALWAYS wrote a personal note when she rejected one of my novels.  And as weird as it sounds, those rejections made me feel like I was making progress.

So much of writing is impersonal.  (And that might be a good thing.  I don’t think I could stand facing down a choreographer or director to have him tell me I didn’t make the cut).  But one rejection after another beats the heck out of your writer ego, so any glimmer of hope helps.  Every ‘yes’ makes a difference.  Every “you almost made it” helps you carry on.  Well, it’s just the same with everything in life.  I watched Face the Nation this morning and listened to the many people talk about John Lewis, “the conscience of Congress.”  He had lots of setbacks, lots of “someday.”  But he carried on.  Because he had HOPE.  He believed in himself.  And he believed in America.   Hope’s what got me through.  I hope you have lots and lots of it.

Happy Writing.

Two more, and maybe another

The digital rights director at my literary agency is letting me put up my old urban fantasy stories on my own as self-published.  First, she has to take them down, and then I can load them under my own name: Judith Post.  It hasn’t been quite as easy as I expected it to be, but we’re getting there.

At the beginning of the transition, we worked on the Fallen Angels series.  Then Wolf’s Bane.  This week, she took down Empty Altars, Spinners of Misfortune, and Fabric of Life.  We hit a hiccup with the Fabric file, but we’ll get there.  There were only two books in the Tyr and Diana series.  I’d hit too many deadends for urban fantasy by then and moved onto writing romances before I tried a third.

In the meantime, I wrote a lot of short novellas and collected them into bundles.  That’s what we’ll work on next.  I’m especially happy I’m going to get to put up all of the Babet & Prosper stories.  All of you know, I have a fondness for witches and supernaturals working together.  Stick them in a fake version of New Orleans, and those were just plain fun to write.

Empty Altars and Spinners of Misfortune were special for me, though.  I love Greek myths and dabbled a little in Norse myths, too.  In this series, I got to combine the two.  Diana, goddess of the hunt and the moon, also known as Hecate to witches, is the protagonist in those stories.  She’s not a warm, nurturing goddess.  In fact, when it comes to survival of the fittest, she can be ruthless, just as Nature can be.  She also can call on hellhounds to do her bidding.  And at the dark of the moon, she can hunt predators to exact justice.

Diana’s runes call her to a modern-day, Norse meadow, but the mortals who live there have kept the old ways and still sacrifice to the old gods.  Someone, however, is trying to destroy the old traditions and to defy the gods.  Diana finds herself working with the Norse god, Tyr, Thor, and the goddess Freya to restore order to their world.

Almost everyone recognizes Thor because of the movies, but his other name is Donar, and he has wild, red hair.  I’d heard of Tyr but never paid attention to him until I started these books.  Tyr placed his right hand in the wolf Fenrir’s mouth so that the world would be safer.  When the wolf realized the trap, Fenrir bit off Tyr’s hand, and the god of war and justice now is an expert sword wielder…with his left hand.  Freya is the goddess of love and lust.  She and her brother, Frey, inspired the Norse Maypole tradition–and it wasn’t just about ribbons and wishing people a happy spring.  She makes Venus look maidenly.

It was fun combining the two sets of myths into stories.  Fabric of Life, if I ever get it loaded:), is a standalone.  I’m a horoscope junkie and teeter back and forth on the idea of destiny, so it was interesting to write about a modern day woman who has to take over the job of the ancient Greek Fates.  Before a new soul can come to earth, it has to stand on a scale, and Thea Patek weaves a bookmark of each bounce back and forth that create the journey of that person’s life and cut the thread at the end.  The bounces only create a map.  How the person reacts and deals with each turning point is his or her choice.  So, yes, the person’s journey is preordained, but not their life.  Freedom of choice determines that.

I’ve left ideas of gods and goddesses behind, for now, and I’ve moved to writing mysteries.  But that’s still a matter of life and death.  And mysteries pose their own questions.  That’s part of the joy of writing, isn’t it?  Asking a question at the beginning of a book and answering it at the end.

Happy Writing!


Money, money, money



I thought I grew up middle class.  Now I’m not so sure.  Most of our neighbors had less money than we did, and my parents struggled quite a bit until my dad got a better job at the factory he worked at and made better wages.  They felt comfortable by the time my little sister was born, but I was twelve by then.

After I got married, had two daughters, and couldn’t get back into teaching, my husband and I dropped to middle class, too.  I only really think about money when something rears up and worries me, but we’re sure not rolling in it.  And sometimes I wonder what it would be like to NEVER have to think about budgets or bills or saving.  And that’s why I created Lux for my new mysteries.

Lux is filthy rich.  She’s so rich, it bothered my agent when she read my manuscript.  Jazzi and Ansel are well off, but they don’t throw money around.  Hester and Raven have amassed fortunes over their centuries-old lives, but they live in Muddy River with lots of other supernaturals who’ve done the same and try to avoid attention.  Lux is rich and enjoys it.

When I was growing up, I didn’t trust people who had a lot of money.  But then, when I started college, I got a job as a waitress at our local Chamber of Commerce.  And I served a lot of rich people at lunches and parties.  And I liked almost all of them.  Some were awesome and some weren’t, just like everyone else I’d met.  And then our church got a retired minister for a year, who’d grown up in Israel before marrying a rich woman and moving to the U.S.  He preached about enjoying blessings as often as he preached about being the best person you could be.  I loved him so much I asked him to marry hubs and me.  I still remember him fondly.

But he helped me realize that enjoying blessings was as important as facing the challenges thrown at us through life.  And that’s why Lux is so much fun to write.  I think she does both well.  She loves all of the money she has, but it doesn’t determine who she is or what she does or who she spends time with.  And as a reporter, and a protagonist who stumbles on crimes and bodies. she rises to each challenge with intelligence and a lot of compassion. She enjoys her yellow Bentley, her sprawling house, and her hunky chef boyfriend.  But she’s willing to pass out lunches at the community center, too, when Keon’s brother needs a helping hand.

As a writer, I love living vicariously through the characters I create.  And this time, with Lux, I get to experience a lot of things that I never had in real life.