Category Archives: mysteries

Why? For every book?

Some people turn on the spigot and words pour out.  They can reach over 100,000 words, then have to cut.

Not me.  My words are stingy, little boogers that make me work for every single one of them.

As always, for every book I write, when I reach the near end of the second middle (near 54,000 words), I look at my plot points and panic.  I just know I don’t have enough ideas and twists to reach 70,000+ words.  I think that EVERY time.  And guess where I am in Jazzi book 5 now?  Yup.  Almost 54,000 words.  And I’m worried.

I have more plot points, mind you.  More ideas.  More suspects and questions and clues.  But at this point, my writing momentum starts to fizzle.  I always start out strong.  The first fourth of every book is an adventure, introducing new characters, new subplots, a new murder to solve.  And then the middle muddle starts, but my middles are sort of divided in half.  The second fourth of the overall book leads to a new turning point.  And often–sadly–since I write mysteries, I end up with a second dead body at the middle of the book–a victim who changes the direction of the story, makes my protagonist rethink her original opinions.  It’s the third fourth of each book that slows me down.  It feels like pulling teeth to keep the momentum going, to keep interviewing one person after another and keep it interesting and keep subplots chugging along.

I’m almost to the last fourth of the story, and that’s when things start to pick up, when my story gathers speed and clues start coming together.  I’m almost there.  I can feel it.  And then the days of sitting fanny in chair and plodding and sweating will pay off.  By next Monday, I’ll be ready for my fingers to fly over the keyboard again.  Until then, well . . . I have a little more to go.

Wherever you are in your work, keep at it, and happy writing!

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Changing Things Up

Years ago, there was a romance writer that I found, and I got a kick out of the blurb for her book, bought it, read it, and loved it.  I went right out and bought the second book in the series.  When I read it, it was still fun, but it was SO much like the first book, it felt like I’d just changed the names and a couple of plot points and everything else was the same.  But I didn’t let that discourage me.  I bought book three.  And…same old, same old.  That was the last book of hers I bought.

But, on the other hand, I had a mystery writer who was an automatic buy for me until–and I’m guessing on the reason here–she decided she didn’t want to write straight mysteries.  She wanted to write something more serious with more angst that tackled bigger subjects, and her characters had to suffer more.  I endured that book and bought the next one, hoping the change was just a fluke, but nope.  The next book tackled subjects that were grimmer than the previous book’s, and I was over it.

I buy certain books to suit my moods.  I like Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap mysteries as much to visit South Cove as to guess who dunnit.  I want to hear the banter between Jill and her sheriff/boyfriend Greg.  I want to know what Jill’s aunt is up to this time.  When I want a warm read to lift my mood, Tourist Trap does the trick.  Another automatic read for me is Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby books.  Her mysteries steep me in Gothic atmosphere.  I enjoy sinking into the world of 1830’s England, Scotland, and Ireland.  I enjoy the growing relationship between Kiera and Gage.  I expect long descriptions, mixed with history, and a moody vibe.

Are there some things that feel repetitious?  Sometimes.  Do I care?  Not that much.  They settle me back into those worlds, the feel of the books.  Can too much repetition drive me nuts?  Only if it feels like every book is a rehash of the one before it.  And what changes that up?  New plots, new characters.  Different questions for the new book to answer.  I want a new story that’s not like the old story every time I visit that author’s world.

I’m new to the J.D. Robb In Death series.  Do I have certain expectations when I start one of her books?  Oh, yeah.  Eve Dallas is tough and gritty.  The murders are visceral and grim.  Roarke is richer than Midas with a lot more connections and a questionable background, and he’d move heaven and earth for Eve.  I’m only now finishing book three, but even though the tone stays consistent for each book so far, the stories keep surprising me.

Can a series book change too much?  It can for me.  When I pick up a book and it doesn’t come close to my expectations, the reason I chose to read it, I’m not a happy fan girl.  So, the trick is to keep each book fresh in a series but to keep the tone and feel of the book similar to the last one I read.  That doesn’t mean one book can’t be more serious or more humorous than the last one, but it can’t feel like some other author usurped my favorite author’s name and tricked me.  Simple, huh?  Hah!  Nothing about writing is easy.  At least not for me.  But think about why you keep buying books in a series.  What keeps you coming back for more?

Whatever you’re working on, happy writing!  And have a great Labor Day weekend.

P.S. I put up a new snippet on Monday for Muddy River and another new snippet on Thursday from The Body in the Gravel, if you’re following either.  And I forgot to pin the Jazzi snippet to my twitter page.  (Shame on me).

Getting excited

I signed up for two conferences this year, both near the end of conference season.  I went to Magna cum Murder in Indy at the end of October last year and decided to go back for their 25th anniversary.  25 years!  And last year, when the hostess asked people to raise their hands who’d come from Day One, a LOT of people raised their hands.  Now that’s a dedicated crowd.  I’m not the type of person who makes instant friends, so I’m looking forward to seeing who’s there again this year and what they’ve done since I saw them last.

Magna cum Murder isn’t aimed for writers.  There were no panels on the state of the industry, poisons, or how to market.  The panels were geared for readers, but oh, were those readers prolific.  They knew their stuff.  I love talking shop with fellow writers, but I love talking to serious readers, too.  And this conference is packed with them.

The second event I’ve signed up for is “CozyClub Mini-Con Midwest.”  My publisher, Kensington, organized it.  It’s on Saturday, September 7–the weekend after Labor Day– from 11 a.m. to 1:00 at Pierogi Mountain (German Village) 739 S 3rd St. in Columbus, Ohio.  Okay, pierogis instantly caught my attention.  But then I read the list of authors who’ve signed up for author signings, and I’m going all fan girl.

I’m sure every author is wonderful, and one might be your favorite, so I’ll list them, but a few of my favorites are going to be there.  Here are the names:  Alex Erickson, Amanda Flower, Anna Lee Huber, C.M. Gleason, Cheryl Hollon, Christin Brecher, Debra H. Goldstein, Ginger Bolton, J.C. Kenney, J.R. Ripley, Julie Ann Lindsay, Lynn Cahoon, Olivia Matthews, Annelise Ryan, Rose Pressey, Sherry Harris, Carlene O’Connor, Kate Dyer-Seeley, Lena Gregory, Winnie Archer, and ME.  At least, that’s the line-up for now.  The book seller is The Book Loft in Columbus, Ohio.

If you read my recommendations on BookBub, you’ll know that I’m hooked on Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series and Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series.  And J.C. Kenney has written two mysteries, and I liked them both.  https://www.bookbub.com/authors/judi-lynn?list=reviews&review_step=search

I’m dragging my poor husband with me to both conferences (lucky him:), and I have an old friend who lives in Columbus that I hope to meet up with and maybe go out for supper with once the mini-con is over.  And my daughter and grandson both live in Indy, so both conferences are a win/win for me.  Sometimes, I do well at conferences and sound halfway intelligent.  Sometimes, I get nervous and it’s dodgy.  But it’s nice to leave my writing cave once in a while and see what’s out there, to meet fellow writers in the flesh instead of just reading their blogs or twitter posts.

I have writers’ club this Wednesday, and it feels like sitting down with old friends, talking plots, dialogue, pacing, and word choice.  They keep me on my toes.  But it will be nice to meet some new people and see what they have to say.    Whether you’re locked in a little room by yourself, sitting in your gazebo or by your pool with your laptop, or meeting up with fellow writers, all the best.  And happy writing!

No More Webpage

I’ve had a weebly webpage for years.  I used it to put up free chapters of books I wrote and never did anything with.  That sounds odd, I know, but I played around with different genres here and there, and sometimes, I liked them, and sometimes, one YA book or one caterer married to a cop mystery was enough.  I don’t regret writing them.  I enjoyed all of them.  I was never convinced offering free work online was a brilliant idea, (and I’m still not convinced it is), but I enjoyed sharing work I wouldn’t publish with readers.

I still love Verdanta–the island home I created for nymphs and sprites who invited a small group of mortals to stay with them one week a month to let the beauty of the island and the energy of their magic help “fix” them after Life hit them a little too hard.  I still love Chintz and Callum–the caterer and cop–because I wanted to try my hand at a Murder Club mystery, and it was FUN.  And I’ll always have a soft spot for the YA book, THE FAMILIARS, with Zoe–the witch–who could take off her shoes and stand barefoot in a park, then watch lush, green grass grow in all directions where the ground was once dead.

I used the webpage to write free short stories, too, so that I could cling to characters I’d grown too attached to but no longer wrote about in books.  I don’t know how many Babet and Prosper stories ended up there.  A lot.

But the sad truth is, to keep the stories moving so that readers didn’t forget the first chapters before I reached the last, I had to put up chapters or scenes at least two or three times a week.  And I am now officially out of books cast in drawers, and I don’t have time to write that many free short stories any more.  So this Tuesday, I hit the “you can never go back” button and deleted the entire webpage.  It was bittersweet.  All of those stories no longer available.  But they’d have just hovered in cyberspace and gone unnoticed anyway, if I didn’t keep up the page, so it was a good thing.

I still intend to add snippets and the occasional short story on a page I created on this blog, and I hope readers find them and enjoy them.  But deleting my webpage was a turning point for me.  It means I’m serious about staggering two series and still hitting deadlines.  And I’ve experimented enough, I’m ready to settle down to two kinds of mysteries I really enjoy writing.

Whatever you’re working on, I hope it’s going well.  And happy writing!

 

It’s Up!

I just wanted to share that my third paranormal mystery, Mixing It Up With Mortals, went live on Amazon today.  Yay!   https://amzn.to/2ymaQrW

Raven and Hester are asked to find out what happened to a new, start-up supernatural settlement.  All of the parents are dead, their bodies covered with puncture marks.  All of the children are missing.  Where are they?  With Murlyn, a warlock who practices black magic involved, the stakes are high.  They have to find the children.  And fast.

Cover for All the Missing Children

 

The British are coming~

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not much of a fan of thirty-minute comedies or evening game shows on TV.  I’m hooked on Dancing With the Stars, but it hasn’t been on for a while, and I’ve never bothered with whatever they chose to replace it.  I watch foodtv on Saturday mornings, but that’s it.  Most everything else is repeats and competitions.  That’s why I signed up for Netflix.  We watch shows on it once in a while.  But then I signed up for BritBox.  And my poor HH’s life has changed.

I love British mysteries, and boy, are there a lot of them–old Hercule Poirots and Miss Marples, plus new ones I’ve never heard of.  Diana Riggs is Mrs. Bradley with clever murders and droll humor, Rosemary and Thyme has its two female sleuths stumble over dead bodies while working on landscaping and sickly lawns, and Shakespeare and Hathaway are a cute blond/frumpy P.I. pair.  HH watches a mystery with me occasionally, but he’s more partial to The Great British Baking Show, not that I’ll ever spend three hours making a perfect Victoria Sponge, but he can dream:)

We used to turn off the TV after the evening news.  Now, we flip to BritBox and watch an hour of something entertaining before he settles behind a library book and I pick up my Kindle.  In the days WC (With Children), our TV habits revolved around family entertainment or one of their favorites, but now, AC (After Children), we can watch what we want.  And it’s wonderful.

I’ve always been partial to British mysteries.  I started out with Agatha Christie and then got hooked on Martha Grimes with Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury.  And then I discovered Elizabeth George and her Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley.  Maybe they were an extension of my love of Pride and Prejudice.  I’m not sure.  But they have a certain feel about them, nothing gritty like American P.I.s.

Lately, I’ve become equally enamored with cozies.  Instead of an English village with a shop that serves tea, I’ve grown fond of small towns with diners and breweries.  I’ve traded an inspector for an amateur sleuth, but the murders are all quite civilized.  It’s rude to splash gore on the walls or furniture.  For variety, I’ve added an occasional paranormal mystery to the mix with witches who solve murders or own bakeries, and I still toss in a thriller or urban fantasy now and then.  But this summer, I return often to low-key pleasant reads and TV. It suits my mood.  Who knows what winter will bring?  For now, though, hope your reading and writing are going well.  May the words flow!

 

Rejection

I haven’t written a short story for a long time.  Short novels?  Yes.  Novellas?  Love ’em.  But a short story?  I haven’t tried any since C.S. Boyack got me in the mood to write a few when he posted his October Macabre Macaroni stories, one a week.  I used that month to post dark stories on my webpage–with mixed results.  Horror and dark fiction have never been my strong point, but that’s exactly why I wanted to try it.  Some people would advise me to do what I do well, or at least better.  But once in a while, I like to push the envelope, to see how far I can stretch.  And I learned that I’m not much better at horror or dark fiction than I was with my earlier stabs at it.  Oh, well.  Can’t win ’em all.

BTW, C.S. Boyack wrote a short story that October I loved.  In case you’d like to try it: https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/macabre-macaroni-second-helping/

Anyway, I digress.  Sometime last year, I got what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.  If I could write a Jazzi and Ansel short story and get it into Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, it would be a great way to promote their series.  To say that I didn’t think this through enough would be an understatement.  But I’ve read quite a few novellas by favorite authors who use shorter fiction (66 – 100 Kindle pages) as teasers to keep readers happy during long pauses between their regular books.  And I’ve enjoyed all of them–Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap holiday novellas, Jenna Bennett’s honeymoon and holiday novellas, and Anna Lee Huber’s pre-wedding novella for Keira and Gage.

I decided that to be successful these stories needed:

  •   The same tone and voice as the books
  •    To establish the characters and their relationships just like the books
  •    Great mysteries to solve like the books
  •    The same feeling/setting as the books

Mind you, each of these things takes a bit of time, some extraneous scenes not found in short stories but possible in novellas.  I tried to accomplish all of the above with a lot less words.  And once I got all of those words written, I sent the story off.

A truth about Alfred Hitchcock magazine:  they only accept online submissions.  Then they give you a code to check your story’s status.  Upfront, they tell you that they’re so bogged down with submissions, you won’t hear back from them for 6 to 7 months.  Make that more like a year, maybe a few days shy of that.  And then you don’t receive an e-mail.  You only know you’ve been rejected when you check your code and see REJECTED next to the story’s title.  Now, I wasn’t heart broken when that happened.  I was a tiny bit ticked that they treat writers so shabbily, but publishing’s changed over the years, so I got over that.  I pretty much knew that the way I’d written the story made its chances  slim.  I used to sell to Alfred Hitchcock, and I had more success with 2,000 to 3,000 word mysteries.  This heavy monstrosity was 8,500 words.  Only an author with a big name can get away with taking up that much magazine space.  But it was a Halloween story, and if no one else wrote one, I might get lucky.  And the story events happen during the events of book 3 in my series, so I had a year to wait anyway.  So why not try?

But once it was rejected, I gave it another look.  And I wasn’t happy with myself.  I’d tried to marry a short story with a novella and ended up with a mess.  A short story needs one, straightforward mystery with hardly any distractions or extras.  A novella has the length to play with different elements, but that’s why it takes more words.  So…

I spent last night and all day today reworking the story.  It’s 7,000 words now.  And I like it.  I’m going to put it up on the blog’s snippet page closer to when The Body in the Gravel comes out September 24th.  My learning curve reinforced something I already knew, but a rule I thought I might be able to bend.  A short story is…a SHORT story.  And I’m up for trying to write another one for Alfred Hitchcock sometime.  But not for a while.  Right now, all of my attention has to focus on writing Jazzi Book 5–The Body in the Past.  (At least, that’s the title for right now).  I’m hoping to write one chapter every weekday I can.

Another lesson I learned?  Failure isn’t the end of the world.  AND, if you want to break into a market, you have to give them what they WANT.  No tinkering with their tried and true playlist.  Ah, well, my short story adventure has to wait for another day.

For now, try to stay cool, and happy writing!