Category Archives: ideas

Finishing Up

I’ve mentioned before that I rewrite as I go when I work on a book.  This time, for the Lux novel I’m working on, I felt as though I’d written too lean.  I have a habit of doing that.  So before I reached the last chapters, I went back and polished everything I’d already done.  I added a character because I thought the story needed it.  And as always, I added more description and details.  Then I read the first chapter to my writers’ group on Wednesday, and they wanted even MORE description.  I must have REALLY written lean this time:)

The result is, I think I’ve made this book too short, but that’s how I’d planned it when I started out.  I intended to self-publish it on Amazon.  When I write a Muddy River, I purposely aim for about 60,000 words.  I’ve said many, many times that I’m a plotter.  I’m not only a plotter, I pretty much know how many plot points I need to get the number of words I want.

For a Muddy River book, I write out 30 plot points.  30 plot points usually equate to 60,000 words for me.  IF, which I don’t, I wrote chapters that were at least 10 pages, I’d end up with 300 pages and close to 70,000 words, but many of my chapters are much shorter, sometimes only 6-8 pages, so I need the 30 points to reach the word count I want.  And 30 always have worked on Hester, Raven, and their supernatural friends.  So, when I sat down to plot Lux, I made myself come up with 30 ideas and an extra one for good measure.  But I don’t have as many descriptions and as many characters in this mystery.  Hester and Raven meet friends at Derek’s bar to discuss what’s happening, and they travel back and forth to interview people in other towns.  That doesn’t happen with Lux, so I’m coming up short on words.  I had to come up with a few extra ideas.  I could have FORCED each chapter to be longer, but then the writing would FEEL forced.  This book has a fast pace I like.  Right now, I’m at 50,000 words with three more plot points before I finish the story and I still need to polish the chapter I worked on today.  That will add words.  It always does, but I’m not sure I’m going to able to summon even 60,000 before I write The End.  No problem if I still planned to self-publish.

BUT, I like this book so much, I’d really like to find a publisher for it.  Most publishers want at least 70,000 words for a  mystery, though, and there’s NO WAY I’m going to make that.  To come up with a book that length, I plot out 40-45 plot points and end up with about 35 chapters.  I just don’t have enough to make Lux a longer book, and the thing is, I really like it the way it is.  I don’t want to tear it apart and rework it to make it longer.  So I have a dilemma.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  I’ve always believed in sending in stories I believe in, with the idea that my agent or editor can always turn me down.  And if they do, then I can self-publish.  But my fearless critique partner, M.L. Rigdon, swears I write sparse enough, she can find lots of places for me to expand descriptions that will make the book better and the right length.  I’ve learned an important lesson, though.  The next time I write a Lux novel, I’ll need more plot points just because her books don’t have as many  “down” times or “soft” scenes that my other books have.  They move faster, so they need more ideas to fill them.

Toward that end, I came up with a list to fill out before I start plotting my next one.  It should give me more characters to choose from and more things to keep in mind: (and remember, this is for mysteries):

  1.  Who’s killed (the first victim), or what is the crime?
  2.   Why is the crime committed?
  3.   Who commits it?  List how and when he commits it.
  4.   Who are the suspects?  At least two.  Why are they suspects?  Any more?
  5.   Any witnesses?  Innocent bystanders?
  6.   What’s the ending?  (I always know the ending before I start a book).
  7.   Any special clues or red herrings?  Any alibis or fake alibis?  Accusations?  (I don’t always know these before I begin and have to fill them in later).
  8.   A subplot (something going on with a character besides solving the murder)
  9.   A second subplot (smaller)

I usually don’t bother with answering all of these questions, but I’m going to make myself for the next Lux,  because I know now that I’m going to need them.

Whatever you’re working on, good luck and happy writing!

Everyone Needs a Ralph

After DH retired, we started meeting a group of old friends at Wrigley Field Bar and Grill every other Tuesday.  DH knew them all through high school.  I met them once I “married into the group.”  Regardless, we’ve known each other for a long time, and there’s nothing like enjoying old, dear friends.

When I decided to write a fixer-upper, cozy mystery series, I asked Ralph if I could ask him questions about flipping old houses.  He’d bought houses to fix to rent for a while, and I can’t even begin to list all of the upgrades he’s done to his own house–big  projects that involve earth movers and building cement holding walls.  The man knows his stuff, and he’s meticulous.  Everything is done right.

He asked me about my series, and when I explained that each time Jazzi, Jerod, and Ansel buy a house to flip, they somehow get involved in a murder, he nodded and said, “Do you need ideas for that?”

“For the murders?” I asked.

“You see, I was working on this one house, and every day, at the same time, this old man walked past it until I started to look for him.  And suddenly, he didn’t come.  And I worried about him.”  That idea became the basis for The Body in the Wetlands.

I came up with an idea for book 3, because I could picture a dump truck backing up to a driveway, and when it spilled gravel from its tilted bed, a body flew out, too.  (The Body in the Gravel).  Book 4 grew out of a bunch of small images that flitted around in my head–a slashed up couch and ransacked house, an old lady raising a grandson who always got in trouble, and a few ex-cons.  They finally came together as the The Body in the Apartment.  But I was playing around with different scenarios for book 5 when Ralph said, “I was talking to this woman who found a  box, and when she opened it, it was full of a person’s treasured things.”  He listed some of them for me, and the idea intrigued me so much, I pictured a girl’s room that hadn’t been disturbed for years.  And when Jazzi opens the girl’s hope chest, she finds grade school pictures, swim ribbons, tennis trophies, and journals.  And those led to The Body From the Past.

I know what I want book six to be:  The Body in the Beauty Parlor.  After all, Jazzi’s mom and sister own a salon.  I’m thinking of stashing a body in the hair wash chair with Olivia’s scissors in the woman’s chest.  Sounds fun to me:)

But when I sat across from Ralph last Tuesday, he said, “What kind of house are they fixing in your next book?”

“A Dutch Colonial in an old, established neighborhood full of well-kept homes.”

He nodded, but a half hour after we got home, he called.  “What if that neighborhood had a lot that sat empty for years, and suddenly, a house builder buys it to build a home of his own?  Everyone resents it because the lot was the unofficial neighborhood park and kids played ball there.  The house he’s building won’t fit the style of the neighborhood.  And what if, when the man’s on a ladder working on the house frame, someone pushes it, and he falls and dies?”

That could happen.  It would work.

“Or what if there’s a guy who buys a house in that neighborhood who works on cars?  And in a few weeks, car parts and junk cars pile up in his front and back yard?  It’s an old neighborhood with a weak neighborhood association.  And no one knows how to make him clean up his property and take care of it…until a cold day, when he runs a hose from the exhaust of the car he’s working on to the garage door and outside, but someone plugs that hose, and the fumes kill him?”

Even better!  I love it.  I can’t use it in my next book, but I’m going to use it somewhere.  The thing is, don’t you wish you had a friend like Ralph?  It’s sort of intriguing that our old, dear friend not only can give me fixer-upper ideas, but he can think of as many ways to murder someone as I can.  Maybe we’re kindred spirits:)

May many ideas flow to you, and happy writing!

Nag, nag, nag

A while ago, over on the Story Empire blog, Staci Troilo was host and asked What is the Favorite Book you’ve written and why?  I read all five of the writers’ answers who take turns hosting the blog to see which book they chose and why it was their favorite.  Their answers were interesting.  You can find the link here:

https://storyempire.com/2019/03/29/bonus-friday-favorite-book/

At the end of the blog, Staci opened up the comments section to other authors to share. I tried to think of the favorite novel I wrote, but I couldn’t settle on one.  I love every book I write, or else I’d never be able to slog through 60,000-100,000 words to finish them.  But then–and every writer will know this feeling–the question just wouldn’t go away.  It rattled around in my head and kept nagging me.  Until I finally came up with an answer for myself.

If I had to choose, I’d pick FALLEN ANGELS, an urban fantasy I wrote as Judith Post.  It was my first true attempt at urban fantasy.  Not that I got it right.  Every editor who commented on it said that NO humans should play a major part in an urban fantasy.  And what did I do?  I made Danny, the detective, work with Enoch, the fallen angel, as a partner.  I did a few other things wrong as well, but I learned a lot while I muddled through it.  And mistakes and all, I was really proud of that book when my agent finally approved it.  First, every time I redid a scene, the book got longer.  It’s the longest book I’ve ever done.  I’d never written a battle scene before, and I had all kinds of them scattered through the story.  I had Enoch–the angel who tackled his friend so he couldn’t join Lucifer’s rebellion–watch Caleb get thrown to Earth as punishment anyway.  And when Caleb bites humans to drink their blood to sustain his own energy, he infects them with his immortality and creates the first race of vampires.  Who don’t behave well, so Enoch’s sent to Earth to clean up after Caleb.

I liked the ideas I played with for this story.  And I was happy that I’d created a character–Enoch’s best friend, Caleb–who was so selfish, but charming–that you waffled between hating him and cutting him some slack.  I tried, but didn’t completely succeed, to create a romantic interest who was so hurt that she pushed everyone away.  That was trickier than I imagined.  Some readers felt sorry for her, and others could have done without her:)

I guess the reason I’d choose FALLEN ANGELS as the favorite novel I’ve written is because it challenged me to leave my comfort zone and write things I’d never tried before. Enoch was a protagonist who didn’t want the job he’d been given.  He didn’t want to be a hero.  All he wanted to do was convince Caleb to go Home with him.  But Caleb LIKED the freedom he’d found on Earth.  He never wanted to repent and be forgiven.  So Enoch was stuck.  Probably for a long time–a brooding hero.

What about you?  Which book would you choose?  And why?  (Be careful.  If you don’t answer, the question might nag you for a long time).

Happy writing!

Treasure Trove

Our daughter’s visiting us this weekend, so this blog is going to be shorter than usual.  Planning on lots of play time:)  I’ve been working on rewrites for my fourth Jazzi Zanders book, though.  So my mind has been playing with her, the people she hangs with, and renovating old houses.  And as always when I’m putting the finishing touches on one book, my mind starts wandering to the next book in the series.

And that’s where a good friend of mine and my husband’s has proven a treasure trove of ideas.  Ralph used to buy old houses and renovate them to rent.  Now, Ralph isn’t the type to just slap paint on walls and make a space liveable.  He’s a perfectionist.  He makes everything he works on the best it can be for the price he can put into it.  And when I told him that I was writing a series about a woman, her cousin, and her romantic interest who flip houses, he suprised me with one idea after another of how flipping a house could dig up clues to old murders.

I’ve already used a few of the things he’s shared with me.  Like finding an old, loved tool box in a basement with all kinds of antique tools no one can find anymore and a person’s initials burned into the beautifully carved wood.  That’s how Jazzi and Ansel knew Joel had been in Cal’s house in book one.  For book two, Ralph told me about how an older man walked past a house he was renovating every day at the same time, and how he came to watch for him, until one day he didn’t come.  And Ralph wondered about him.  Was he all right?  Had something happened to him?  I used that idea for Leo walking his dog past the roof Jazzi, Jerod, and Ansel were working on, and Leo would stop to talk to Jazzi every chance he got because he was lonely.  And then one day, Leo didn’t come.

For book five, Ralph intrigued me with a story he told about finding a woman’s treasure box in a closet while he was gutting a house.  She had stones she’d collected when she was a little girl, grade school class pictures, a yearbook, letters from friends, pieces of jewelry, and ribbons and awards, among other things.  For book five, I have Jazzi, Jerod, and Ansel fixing up one of the old “grand dame” houses in Auburn, a town north of where I live.  And I keep thinking about what Jazzi will find in a treasure chest of the girl who grew up in that house, but when Jazzi tries to return the box to her, she finds out the girl died soon after her senior prom, and no one ever solved what happened to her.  And that, of course, sets up the mystery she tries to solve.

Ralph’s given me lots more ideas, and I’ve written them all down and keep them in my own small box of treasured story ideas for later use.  Who knew flipping houses, in real life, could stimulate so many plots?  But I’m grateful for all of them.  And if I’m lucky, I’ll have lots more Jazzi Zanders mysteries to write.

And for all of you, happy writing!

 

Words and more words. Are they enough?

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You know how, when you don’t see someone’s kids, it comes as a shock when you hear how old they are?  In your mind, you picture them as four or five and then you find out they’re nine or ten.  At least, that happens to me.  My mind hangs on to the last time I saw them and doesn’t add nearly enough of the years that have passed.  For some reason, it must work the opposite for writing.  Friends always think I should be further along than I am.  Words don’t accumulate as fast as they should.  I plot and I plod.

I admit I’m lucky.  At least my friends ask about my writing.  They encourage it.  They often ask, “How’s the writing going?”  And they always expect me to have made great progress.  I expect it, too, but tortoises don’t impress.

I’m up to 50,000 words in my mystery.  I need at least 20,000 more.  And this is the time–in every manuscript–when I panic.  I look at my last remaining plot points, and I just KNOW that I don’t have enough ideas to meet my word count.  The worry and sense of foreboding almost always makes me go to bed, sure I’m doomed, and wake up the next morning with new ideas for scenes.   It happened three nights ago.  I fell asleep thinking about places to add another twist, a new turn, and woke up with a new character and clue.  (And yes, my husband’s used to my living with characters walking around in my head.  He takes it in stride.)

The new clue made me even happier than usual.  In my plot points–(which I need to give myself enough material to keep a book moving–and see what happened?–I’m still worried I have enough)–I was supposed to kill off Peyton–my cute, young pizza delivery guy.  (Hope you could follow that).  Except, I’ve gotten really attached to him.  I like him way more than I thought I would.  And I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t kill him.  I thought readers might hate me.  I’d hate me.  So, you guessed it, the new character has to die.  Thankfully, we don’t really get to know her, so we aren’t too attached to her, but I needed a nice, sympathic victim.  And yes, I know that if I kill someone we all care about, the murder will have more impact.  But this time, I just couldn’t do it.

Anyway, I’ve added a few scenes to the last fourth of the book, and hopefully, they’ll push me over 70,000 words–the length my editor wants.   If not, I’ll panic again, and I’ll have to come up with more ideas.  But the thing is, this happens to me EVERY book.  You’d think I’d learn, but not so much.  And you know how every kid you have is different?  So what works for one doesn’t work for the next?  Well, so is every book.  One flows, one doesn’t; one loves wordy descriptions, one begs to be tighter, punchier.  Books have their own ideas of what they want.  And just like raising a kid, you as the author might have certain rules, but the books do their best to bend them.

What I have learned, though, is to trust myself and the process.  There’s a certain amount of faith in starting a book, a belief that when you reach a big, giant hole with only blank pages in front of you, you’ll be able to think of something to fill it.  And you will.  Trust yourself.  So, hope you have a good week.  And happy writing!

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Plodding at Plotting

An idea kept tugging at me for a second mystery.  Actually, it was an idea a friend gave me, and I’ve been wanting to use it since Ralph shared it with me.  When I first decided that I’d like to write a “house flipper” mystery, I had no idea there were already some out there.  I always buy my favorite authors and I’ve looked at a few others–found Jenna Bennett’s Southern Belle mysteries and love them, but didn’t know she wrote a Do-It-Yourself series as Jennie Bentley until I stumbled on one.  I’d never watched Hallmark mysteries either until other friends recommended them.  And guess what?  There’s a fixer-upper house amateur detective on those, too.  It’s fun to see how other writers mix niches with murder.  Guess it just goes to show that every idea’s probably already been taken, so you just have to write what you want and put your own spin on it.

For my first mystery, I came up with a set-up, a few plot points for each fourth of my book, and an end.  Then I sort of winged it.  I like how it turned out, but I did a lot of rewrites.  This time, I want to take my time and have 40 steps to keep my story afloat. Our friend, Ralph, used to buy old houses and fix them up to rent.  He can answer any questions I have about house repairs.  I invited him for supper one night–yes, a bribe, and he knew it, so I had to spring for ribeyes–and he had lots of ideas that I would never have thought of.

He said that once, he worked on a house for a few months to divide it into an upstairs and downstairs apartment, and he watched an old man across the street leave his house at the same time every day, walk down the street, and return about an hour later with a grocery bag from the local butcher shop.  And then one day, the man didn’t didn’t leave, and Ralph worried about him.  He didn’t see the old man for the rest of the week, and he couldn’t believe how relieved he felt when someone dropped him off, along with a suitcase, and the old man returned to his usual routine.  That idea stuck with me.  So I played with it and came up with an idea for a mystery.  I’ve fiddled with that until I have a set-up for the first fourth of my new book.

I like to have a subplot for my books, too, so I’ve mapped out one for Ansel, the contractor who just moved in with my female protagonist, lucky girl.  And for the moment, that’s as far as I’ve gotten.  But it’s time that I zero in on the criminal.  What does he want?  And what makes it worth killing for?  How is he going to interact with my characters? Can you hear me rubbing my  hands together, plotting away?

Ideas aren’t tumbling out of my head, but that’s okay.  They’re stewing, and eventually, they’ll end up making a tasty whodunnit.

 

Happy Writing!

 

 

A Little Disagreement is Good:)

I finished the contract for my six romances at Kensington.  My wonderful editor, John Scognamiglio, told me that I could write three more romances for him, or I could try my hand at a mystery, because he thought I’d do a good job on those, too.  How lucky can a girl get?  My wonderful agent, Lauren Abramo at Dystel and Goderich, told me that it would be smarter to write more romances and build an audience, but being the true lover of WRITING that she is, she told me to do what I was most passionate about.  She’s more than a gem.  People who disparage editors and agents don’t realize how overworked they are and how committed they are to writers and the written word.  Yes, they’re the business side of writing.  But they still LOVE writing and words and books.

Anyway, I’ve always loved mysteries, so I decided to go for it.  Which means that I was starting over…again…and I needed to write a proposal.  And that’s when I remembered how HARD it is.  John Scognamiglio spoiled me.  As long as he thought I had enough ideas to come up with a whole book, he gave me a thumbs up and said Write Away.  He trusted me to figure things out as I went.   Lauren has a more critical eye.  She has to.  She’s the one who shapes a synopsis and proposal so that a publisher might want to buy a writer’s book.  And Lauren and I are very different, and that plays into things, too.

Lauren never gives me a Free Pass.  We hash over how she sees a character, compared to how I see that character in my mind.  If she thinks something’s not clear or a plot point is soggy, she makes me rethink it and rewrite it.  And every book of mine that she’s touched is better for it.  If we can’t come up with a compromise with e-mails, she’s happy to pick up the phone and let me know what she thinks, but she always ends with “It’s your book.  You have to make the final decision.”  Which sounds tempting, but she’s always so freaking right.

I don’t think I’ve ever rewritten, rethought, any book as much as The Body in the Attic (the working title).  I didn’t like the girl who becomes a dead body.  Lauren REALLY sympathized with her.  I sympathized with the person who stuffed her in the attic, and Lauren sent paragraphs about how she considered him sinister.  There’s nothing that makes you learn more and stretch more than a good, healthy disagreement about how you see your book.  We’ve both compromised.  And I’m happy with the changes I’ve made.  (I think Lauren would have liked more changes, but she’s satisfied with what we came up with).  The things that really bothered me about Lynda didn’t bother Lauren. The things that really bothered her weren’t such big deals to me.  Different world views. Different experiences.  No right.  No wrong.  Just different.  And that’s just plain interesting.