Mystery Musings

I just finished reading the book CIRCE by Madeline Miller.  I love Greek myths, and I’ve always enjoyed the story of Odysseus.  On his journey home, Circe was one of the more fascinating characters he met.  And she’s a witch.  Now, anyone who’s read my blog very long knows I’m fond of good witches, too.  So this was a double win for me.  And Circe WAS a good witch.  His men deserved to be turned into pigs.

When I wrote urban fantasies, I used myths and witches in a lot of my stories.  But this book is literary, so Circe’s journey involves character growth more than adventures and battles.  And it explores what gives life meaning.  Circe is a nymph, so she’s immortal.  But the gods and goddesses she meets and who make up her family are shown mostly as petty.  There are a few exceptions, but they’re rare.  Most of them are full of pride, and they’re fickle.  They live forever, but their lives don’t mean much.

Circe is her mother’s firstborn, but her mother doesn’t consider her beautiful enough.  Neither does her father, so she’s the object of a lot of scorn.  Her sister, however, and then her brother are radiantly attractive, but mean.  Looks trump goodness of character every time in Helios’s halls.  Immortality doesn’t deepen wisdom or kindness.  It blunts it.  The gods purposely abuse mortals, because they know when frightened, humans worship them more, not less.  Thankfully, Circe sees this as the defect it is.

Circe tries to cope until she finally angers her father so much, she’s banned from his halls and sent to live on a small island.  This island becomes her sanctuary, where she learns to develop her spells and grows stronger day by day.  She learns lessons the hard way until she becomes a woman smart enough to defy the gods and get away with it.  It’s a pleasure reading how she becomes true to herself, even when the odds are against her.

My Florida daughter recommended this book to me, and I’m so glad she did.  The story made me wonder if imperfections are what make us grow to become the best we can be.  In stories, characters without flaws are boring.  Is that true in real life?  And as always, Greek gods are shown as vain and thoughtless.  A great combination for an interesting read.

EMPTY ALTARS is Free, March 2-6


I love Greek and Norse myths, so decided to bump them together in a book.  Diana, goddess of the hunt, the moon, and witchcraft is none too happy when her runes whip her out of her Manhattan penthouse to send her to a Norse meadow that hasn’t changed since the Viking days.  Tyr and Donar are even less happy to find her there, but Freya insists they need Diana’s help to win against Heid, a dark witch who refuses to stay dead.

Writing: the elusive tease

I just finished reading The Awakening: Book One of the Judas Curse, by Angella Graff. The book mixes Mark and Judas from the Bible with Greek gods–an intriguing idea, at least to someone like me, who loves myths and legends. Graff went one step further and wrote Ben, a protagonist, as a detective who rejected all things religious and faith-based. His sister Abby, however, chased down miracles and stigmata. Their opposing approaches proved interesting until they felt contrived. The brother and sister rarely discussed their views or the WHY of how they chose them. They just fought about them, over and over again. The repetition felt stuck in for the plot, but didn’t contribute to character development. A missed opportunity. Yet this book had some original, offbeat slants that I enjoyed.

My main problem with the book was that the author kept teasing us with information that she’d almost tell us, but then withhold. She wanted us to hang in there to find the answers. That only works for me for so long, and then I get frustrated, and then I don’t care. My opinion? This technique doesn’t work. My big complaint, though, is that she NEVER told us why Mark and Judas were cursed and who cursed them. I’d have been able to identify with the characters’ struggles a lot more if I understood their history and burdens more. I’m not even sure what the curses actually were. Graff hints that Judas’s curse is that he can heal. Okay, I can buy into that maybe. Not totally. People would mob him and some would want to use him, but Mark’s curse was even more vague to me. Mark kept saying that he brought death and wars, but I never really understood why. The hints just didn’t cut it. Graff introduced enough interesting, odd events for me to hang in there to the end of the book, but the withholding of information began to feel like a carrot dangled in front of a donkey. And the donkey, this time, was me.

I’ve seen other writers use this technique to keep readers turning pages. Hell, when I first started writing, I used it until an editor dashed off a quick note that informed me that I’d build more tension if I just spelled things out. “This is what the protagonist wants and what he’s dealing with. This is who the antagonist is and what he’s doing. Watch them collide and see what the protagonist does to achieve success.” At first, that seemed so simple to me. Too simple. Wouldn’t it be more interesting if I didn’t give the reader all the information he needed? If he had to add things up? But no, the editor was right. The readers weren’t intrigued. They were frustrated. I was cheating, withholding information from them that they needed. I’m not saying that a writer can’t create characters readers aren’t sure are trustworthy or a plot that looks like it’s going in one direction and then takes a surprise twist (that’s been foreshadowed, but we didn’t expect). I’m just saying that a writer has to play fair. We give readers vital information and THEN we try to trick them. Agatha Christie excelled at this. She gave us the significant clue, but tricked us into looking at something else. Or, in the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling makes Snape look like a villain, but he’s actually trying to protect Harry. But the information was there, on the page. She gave it to us and let us decide. She didn’t try to play hide-and-seek with it.

Angella Graff created an interesting, unusual premise for a series. She came up with one thing after another that I didn’t expect, but her book would have been stronger–for me–if she’d trusted her own writing more. She didn’t need to tease me into turning pages. Her characters and plot were enough to make me do that.
twitter: @judypost

Writing and Niches

I just finished reading Ghost of the Nile by Veronica Scott. She’s a good writer, and I loved her male protagonist, Periseneb. Talk about a guy who got a bum deal! Not that he didn’t make some bad choices, but the punishment didn’t fit the crime. So when the goddess, Ma’at, gives him a chance to set things right, I wanted the best for him. The plot had surprising twists that kept things interesting, but in all honesty, the true reason I loved the story was because it’s saturated in Egyptian myths and everyday details. I could submerge myself in Egyptian culture and beliefs without doing any of the research. It’s the same reason I read and loved Murder in the Place of Anubis by Lynda S. Robinson, if you’d rather have pharaohs and kas wrapped up in a mystery plot.

I read Julia Donner’s Regencies for the same reason. I can enjoy the mannerisms and social niceties of a different era, glorying in fancy ballgowns and salons vicariously, immersed in buttoned gloves and satin slippers. Barbara Hambly’s Fever Season plopped me, as a free black man, in the raucous years of old New Orleans, where the rainy season brings pestilence–the deadly yellow fever–and where a man’s color–white, black, light-skinned black–determines social standing.

I’ve chosen many a book, not only for the author’s skill and voice, but also for the “extra” of a time and place unknown to me. The right niche can be a selling point. I read Caleb Carr’s The Alienist because it offered Theodore Roosevelt as the “newly appointed police commissioner” of 1896 New York City and Dr. Laszlo Kreizler as one of the first psychologists called upon to help solve a grisly crime. I’ve even written books because I’m hooked on a niche. Empty Altars and Spinners of Misfortune came about due to my love of Greek and Norse myths.

Even if a writer doesn’t choose a different time or place for his novel, he should still think about niche. It helps you market your book. Mystery writers often add a unique spin to their novels. There are cooking school murders that feature catering and recipes. There’s a series that uses dry cleaning to find clues. Some feature fishing, bowling, and herbs. Dick Francis wrote about wine and horse racing. Tony Hillerman gave us a feel for the Navajo. Niche can be broadened to give a sense of how a writer stands out from the others in his/her genre. For instance, Ilona Andrews writes urban fantasies, but she’s known for delivering action and humor. Patricia Briggs, another urban fantasy writer, has a strong myth/legend feel in her Mercy Thompson series. In romance, Samantha Young hit it big with On Dublin Street, using locales to set the mood for her stories. Shirley Jump is known for adding humor to her romances.

Writers usually do better if they write in a genre, so that a reader knows what to expect before they crack the cover. But every writer has to find some way to stand out in that genre, and a niche can help.

P.S. My new Babet/Prosper novella should go online this week, and then I’m making all of my novellas and bundles 99 cents to celebrate. The first books in each of my series will be 99 cents for a while, too.
Happy reading and writing!

My webpage:

Writing when you have no patience

Okay, I really meant to put one part of Freya’s story on my webpage each week for the month of March. But it feels like it’s taking forever to me, and I can’t stand it. So, I’m putting up Part 3 today, Part 4 on Wednesday, and Part 5 on Thursday. Now you’ll believe me when I tell you that I don’t have lots of patience. You can find all five parts on my webpage, one each day. Hope you like them!

World Blog Tour

I want to thank Sia Marion for inviting me to the World Blog Tour. Sia posted a blog on how she writes on July 15, and I enjoyed reading about how she crafts her stories. I hope you visit her blog to learn her techniques, but more, I hope you poke around to read the free, short pieces she’s shared to lead up to her WIP. She’s up to Part 6 for Blaize, one of the lead characters in her novel…& he’s already in trouble:)

A Little About Me

I just finished reading the book Lost Lake, by Sarah Addison Allen. There’s a character in the novel, Eby, who enjoys listening to people, invites them over for a meal or a drink, but still cherishes her alone time. That could be me. I’m a Libra, and I love people, but I need balance. I guard my alone time, too. I love to cook, and over the years, I’ve cooked for lots and lots of people, but lately, I’m learning the pleasures of cooking small instead of large. I write more now, read more books, and enjoy more freedom. It’s been an adjustment, but a happy one.

Four Questions About My Writing

What Am I Working On?

Right now, I’m writing a contemporary romance, IN A PICKLE, but I usually write urban fantasy. Occasionally, I like to stretch my writing muscles, and romance makes me focus more on character development and relationships. I tend to be a plot-driven writer with stories triggered by battles or events, not feelings and misunderstandings, so this is a learning curve for me. Different triggers drive the story.

How Does My Work Differ From Others Of This Genre?

I think every genre comes with certain expectations. When readers pick up a romance, they want chemistry, characters they like, and a happy ever after. When they pick up urban fantasy, they want strong, kickass characters and lots of tension with a good-versus-evil struggle between different supernaturals. The basics are similar, so it’s how the author approaches them that makes each author unique. I have a fondness for myth and legends with a little bit of the Old Testament thrown in. I think that gives my writing a certain slant. Patricia Briggs favors the fae and Southwest, American Indian legends–like Coyote. Ilona Andrews uses old gods and goddesses in her Kate Daniel novels, and Faith Hunter adds a different American Indian myth base for her Jane Yellowrock novels. I like Greek/Roman and Norse myths. And fallen angels…well, they’re Biblical. Oh, and witches. I really enjoy witches. As for romance, I think that’s where my idealism sneaks in.

Why Do I Write What I Write?

I think most of us write what we’re drawn to, what we enjoy reading. I started out writing mystery short stories. I still love short stories–hence, all the novellas I’ve written. And I wrote mysteries because I was an Agatha Christie fan. Mysteries have changed over the years, though, and so have my tastes. Now, I read urban fantasies and “magical” romances–like Alice Hoffman’s earlier novels: Practical Magic and Turtle Moon. My daughters and I buy Sarah Addison Allen’s novels and buddy read them together. So, I guess, the things that excite me when I read, excite me when I write.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

I’ve written quite a few posts about that on my blog, but basically, to start with, an idea grabs me. I try to ignore it, but if it won’t let me go, then I know it’s a keeper. I write it down and ask myself How did this happen? Why did it happen? Who will it affect? How will the protagonist deal with it? And then the beginning of the story starts to take shape. I play with a main character and write the opening hook and then expand it into a first chapter. I never start with back story. That can be added later to add depth to the character. I just throw the poor protagonist into a problem, watch him struggle and try to cope, and then write a few plot points to see what he’ll do next. I decide on a setting. Then I decide who or what motivates my antagonist and why. I add some minor characters, do character wheels for them so that they bump and clash, and then write enough plot points to sustain the story. I almost always have my entire novel plotted out with turning points at the end of each quarter. And it never takes away the surprise, the enthusiasm for writing the scenes, because my characters still surprise me. Always.

I want to thank Sia Marion for inviting to this Blog Tour. It’s always fun to meet new authors and learn how they work. It’s my honor to introduce you to two more, wonderful writers who’ll post on the Tour on July 29. A writer friend of mine–who writes fantasy, contemporary, YA, and Regency–has just started a blog. It feels like I’ve been waiting for YEARS for her to get around to it. It’s new, only one post right now, but she’ll write about her process on the 29th, so check in for that, and I happen to like her webpage, too: The second writer I invited for next week is Susan Bahr. Susan and I met through our blogs, and I’ve enjoyed her posts for a long time. She recently started a new blog, mostly about writing, and I enjoy her approach. You can find her here:

Happy Writing, All!

Writing–can I pat myself on the back?

I’m bragging today. Not about super sales numbers or barrels of money, but because I finally finished a lot of long term goals, and I was only off by one week on my time line. And I’m feeling pretty darned satisfied.

First, I finished the rewrites for the sequel to my Empty Altars novel. My agent, Lauren Abramo, is reading the new stuff, and hopefully, it will be ready to go online soon. I had so much fun writing SPINNERS OF MISFORTUNE because I tossed lots of my favorite myths into the story line. My daughter read it and liked it, but she’s not as enamored of myths as I am, so she’s more of a fan of the Fallen Angels novels. But I got to make Arakhne, the girl whom Athena changed into a spider, one of the minor characters, and I made her a big spider–really big. Then I got to descend to the Norse Underworld with Hel, Loki’s daughter. Hel is one of those cool, creepy goddesses that I had to sort of love/hate. Fitting, since half of her looks beautiful, and the other half looks zombified. Talk about a split personality. That’s the kind of stuff that excites me.

Second, I finished the first draft of the third Fallen Angels novel. Holly (my daughter) read it and loved it. Once it gets past Holly, I always feel good. Everyone needs those one or two–three, if you’re lucky–readers, who call you out when you’ve fallen short. Holly nails me every time. She reads as a READER, for story and characters, etc. Did I bore her? Did she want to throw the manuscript on the floor and jump up and down on it at any point? Once I pass her, then I give my manuscript to my friends Mary Lou and Ann (both awesome writers), and they clock me for any other mistakes I’ve made. I’m waiting on their feedback now, but that’s okay. Because I can put BLOOD LUST away for a while and start work on another book. By the time I get back to it with their comments, it will look different to me. I’ll have more distance.

Third, I finished two novellas for my Christian/Brina novella series so that I can put them in a bundle. This will finish ALL of my novella series. The last one–done. And Holly read the last Christian novella and gave it a thumbs up. I’m still waiting on Mary Lou’s verdict. But my goal–to finish them–is complete. I really enjoyed this series, because I set it in medieval times for the simple reason (and this is sort of pathetic) that I could live in a castle and ride dragons and add witches and magic and anything else I could think of. I kept myself entertained. But Christian’s serfdom is finished now, and eventually, the bundle will go online. That feels good–to have something stored away that I can put up later, when I’m struggling with the new book I’m about to start.

Last but not least, I finished reading Samantha Young’s DOWN LONDON ROAD. I really liked the book, but I was reading it as homework, to study a contemporary romance and see what elements I need when I try to write my own.

I’d planned on finishing everything up by the last day of May. I went over by one week, but I’m happy with that. I’ve cleared out all of the projects I had going for urban fantasy, and now I can concentrate on writing a romance. I’ll do better that way. My head tends to niggle at things that are half finished, and now it’s clear to move on to the next project.

Also–Stephanie at nominated me for a Versatile Blogger award, and I promised to tell you 7 things about myself this time, but I blabbed too long about my goals, so I’ll list them next week. Lucky you:)

Writing–I finished my Ally/Dante novella series

This year, I want to spend more time writing novels, so I’ve been trying to finish and bundle most of my novella series.  I sent the last Ally/Dante story to Dystel & Goderich to put up soon, and Michael Prete made two, new covers for me (which I love. If you’d like to use him, you can reach him at  I’m really happy with the way the series has turned out.  But this is the series where I let myself indulge my love of Greek myths, and now, it’s over.

When I was little, I had a fondness for Aesop’s fables and Grimm’s fairytales (the modern, nice versions–before I discovered The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies, with not so nice versions).  I had a brief fling with James Fenimore Cooper, Jane Austen, and James Hilton, flirted with Shakespeare and English Lit in college, and then got hooked on mysteries.  But when I took Latin in high school and discovered the myriad of Greek myths, I became an addict.  My youngest sister is twelve years younger than I am, and I used to tell her Greek myths as her bedtime stories.  She still remembers them.  (She might be as bad as I am).

For the Ally/Dante stories, I wanted to focus on what happened to the two sisters that survived Medusa’s curse.  I wondered about them when I read Medusa’s full story.  The girls’ parents were both deities, and they disowned all three girls when Athena turned them from beautiful to gorgons.  Now, that’s a great inciting incident for a story in itself.  I figured that would have to leave a bit of bitterness for Euryalis (one of the sisters).  I mean, all three girls in some myths (and myths change with time, so choose which version you want to use for your story) were stunningly beautiful.  Suitors pursued them, and they could pick and choose.  Medusa was a priestess in Athena’s temple, and when she fell for Poseidon, they chose the temple to rendevous.  A bad decision.  Athena discovered them and cursed Medusa, since she couldn’t really punish Poseidon.  BUT, she not only cursed Medusa, she also cursed her two, beautiful sisters.

Now, what’s not to love in this story?  It has everything a writer could ever want for internal turmoil and conflict.  A sister–Ally, who loves and champions her younger sister, even though what she did is wrong–and then she’s cursed by the gods for her sister’s sins, even though she’s done nothing wrong.  More, Medusa is the only mortal of the three girls.  Both Euryalis and Stheno are immortals, so they can’t die.  But they CAN be killed, and their heads–if they’re removed–can be used as weapons to turn enemies to stone.

Oh, the joy!  I wanted to take Euryalis and throw her in today’s world and see how she’d fare.  A powerful demi-god hunts her, because he wants her head.  Athena has softened her punishment, as much as possible, because Athena’s a pretty decent goddess once she calms down.  But Ally–as she calls herself–still becomes a gorgon when push comes to shove.  She might be a beautiful girl most of the time, but she’s the last, surviving sister and she’d like to stay that way–alive.  She has enough emotional baggage to crush most people, but she tends to plug into the things that make her happy.  And then, she meets a gargoyle.  Gargoyles are protectors, and things go from there.

I have to admit, I enjoyed writing this series.  It’s not for everyone.  My daughter, Holly, isn’t a big myth fan.  She liked the novellas, but they weren’t her favorites.  My daughter, Robyn, loves myths, and she really enjoyed these.   For me, they were a good time.  I got to throw griffins, nymphs, and lotus eaters into urban fantasy plots.   And it was fun.

My bundle will be up soon: 5 individual novellas gathered cover_mockup_34as Gorgons & Gargoyles.