I’m impressed

I just finished another Lynn Cahoon Tourist Trap mystery:  TEACUPS AND CARNAGE.  I really enjoyed it.  And it proved that all of the truths that I’d stashed in my tiny little brain about writing could be laughed at.

This book, according to every article I’ve ever read about writing, did everything wrong.  And I loved it.  Jill, who runs the coffee shop in the Tourist Trap series, is the protagonist, and she’s DETERMINED not to get involved in another murder investigation in South Cove.  Her boyfriend, Greg, who’s the law enforcer for the area, is tired of having to rescue her when she figures out who the real killer is and ends up in their crosshairs.

But people come to her coffee shop and keep telling her things that pertain to the murder.  The woman who owns the new shop across the street from hers brings her problems to Jill.  This means that Jill REACTS to everything she’s trying to stay out of.  She’s NOT actively trying to investigate.  But she can’t help but be involved.  A whole lot of the plot; therefore, doesn’t revolve around Jill trying to solve the murder.  It deals with how busy Jill is with everything during summer in South Cove.  So busy that murder is pushed to the fringes of her life.

But readers STILL know that Jill’s going to be involved in solving the case.  It’s a pretty clever device, to be honest.  The reader finds herself busier trying to solve the case than Jill (supposedly) is.  I was impressed.

Of course, at the end, Greg still has to rescue Jill. but it’s totally not her fault this time.  And the ending is pretty upbeat.  I really enjoyed this book.  I try to learn something from every book I read, but this time, I don’t think I could pull her gimmick off.  But it worked.  Kudos to Lynn Cahoon.


I finished the rewrites of my Muddy River short read.  It ended up being a little over 15,000 words, so an Amazon 90-minute read.  On top of that, I designed a cover I like for it.  This story did exactly what I wanted it to do.  It put my mind in a whole different mode than writing mysteries.  I think I’ve found something that works for me.  There’s no guarantee that Muddy River will ever be a success, but it lets me write with a lot more freedom than mysteries do.  So I’m going to keep doing it between each mystery novel I finish.  I should be ready to put it up soon, so here goes:

BOUNTY HUNTED--Muddy River cover--4.5

Muddy River’s charming bartender, Derek–a powerful vampire–left New York centuries ago to escape his succubus lover, Allure.  He moved to Muddy River and eventually mated with Prim Tallow, a Fae.  But Allure’s finally found him, knows where he lives.  And she wants him back.


The Building Blocks of Story: Scenes

Great writing advice from Staci Troilo at Story Empire

Story Empire

Ciao, SEers. Last time, we discussed Dwight Swain’s concepts of scenes and sequels. (If you missed that post, you can find it here.) Remember, a chapter’s scenes can be one of two things, a scene or a sequel. Today, we’re going to go deeper into the concept of scenes.

What are scenes?

Scenes are the “proactive” units of a story. They introduce and advance goals, conflicts, and disasters. Scenes should have all three items before advancing to the following sequel. Why must they include all three? Because all three are necessary for tension. And without tension, there’s no reason for a reader to turn the page.


A goal is simply what your POV character desires. It could be:

  • an object (the Holy Grail)
  • a position (POTUS)
  • a state of being (overcome an injury)
  • a change in status (going from captive to freedom)

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A Teaser

This is a short snippet from the Muddy River I’m working on now:  BOUNTY HUNTED.  (That’s the working title.  It may change):

Derek loaded his arms with boxes of potion to carry to his SUV. I hurried to open its rear door for him, but before we reached the corner of the house, Claws sprang to his feet and raced to stand in front of me, a low growl starting deep in his throat.

“Hold on a minute,” I warned Derek. “Something’s wrong.” As soon as I paused, I felt a shift in the magic in the air. What it could be, I had no idea. No enemy could cross the wards my witches and I had placed around the entire town.

Derek lowered the boxes to the ground and turned in a slow circle, sniffing deep breaths. “I smell a shapeshifter, someone new. I don’t recognize the scent.”

Suddenly, a silver chain snapped in the air and circled him, pinning his arms to his sides. A large, burly man stepped from behind the garage and tugged on the chain, tightening it around Derek. He aimed a glare at me. “Stay out of this, Missy, and I won’t harm you.”

Missy? This idiot came to Muddy River, a community made up entirely of supernaturals, and he was going to spare me? Did he even know what my magic was? I called for power, and it flowed from my feet to my fingertips. Then I zapped him, maybe a little more forcefully than I needed to. He flew backward several yards, losing his grip on the chain. He landed hard with a grunt. I grabbed the chain and yanked it off Derek.

Fangs slid past Derek’s lips and his eyes turned bloodred. He stalked toward the man.

“Don’t drain him!” I called. “I want to know how he got here.”


Even Better Than I Expected

I stayed up longer than usual to finish reading SAPPHIRE FLAMES by Ilona Andrews.  I hardly ever do that anymore, so it takes a really good book that I can’t put down to keep me up into the wee hours.

When I want a book with wild imagination, lots of action, and even more battles, my go to is Ilona Andrews.  The same can be said for tons of other readers.  She’s a New York Times best-selling author, because she delivers.  When I want shivers but no horror, she delivers that, too.  Time after time, in every book, her protagonists (female and her romantic interest) look like there’s no way they can survive their newest threat.  The odds always seem impossible.  And of course, they somehow manage to scrape through alive.  They face mages who can shred minds, reach into another sphere to pull out monsters, or amass armies.  It’s wonderful fun.

In the first set of three books featuring Catalina’s family–starting with BURN FOR ME–the books revolve around Nevada and Rogan.  Nevada’s the oldest sister in the family, who’s struggling to keep the family’s detective agency solvent after her father dies and to keep food on the table.  When she takes on her latest case, she runs smack into “Mad” Rogan.  She and Rogan got three books before their HEA, and they were great together.

SAPPHIRE FLAMES is the first book in the second part of the series, featuring Nevada’s sister Catalina and her romantic interest, Alessandro.  There are references to the first books in the series, but I think there’s enough information that you could read this set without reading the first.  And this set has a different feel.  I can’t remember reading a more dashing hero than Alessandro.  He’s gorgeous.  He’s sexy.  He’s Italian and a count.  And he’s deadly.  Plus, he really, really wants Catalina.

The especially fun part about Alessandro is that his magic negates anyone else’s magic he’s close enough to.  AND if there’s any kind of weapon close enough, he can have a copy of it in his hand to use.  When he battles, he can go through weapons one after another until he finds the right one to finish his opponent.  My favorite example of this is when he and Catalina are battling a mage who can change into a huge killing beast, and he shoots her over and over again at a building site and finally ends up with a chain saw in his hand while Catalina hacks at her head with a sword.  Nice family fun.

Catalina’s magic struck me as more subtle, but it’s every bit as deadly.  She can wrap her magic around anyone and make them love her to the point that they’ll do anything she asks to make her happy.  She’s VERY careful of her magic and has to hold it in so that it doesn’t affect innocent people.  She uses her magic in really surprising ways, and I enjoyed watching her get out of deadly situations by being so clever.

And when you put Catalina and Alessandro together…sparks fly.  Chemistry explodes.  I knew they wouldn’t get together at the end of the book (since it’s book one in what I assume will be three), but oh, I wanted them together!  I should mention quickly that Catalina’s family and friends are all wonderful in their own ways, as well.  And as you can tell by this long, gushing review, I absolutely loved this book.

Cover Reveal

My fifth Jazzi Zanders mystery, THE BODY FROM THE PAST, is now available for reviewers on NetGalley: https://www.netgalley.com/catalog/book/191452

The awesome thing, though, is that NetGalley shows the cover.  And this cover is so much fun!  The book comes out late September, and my editor asked me to set the story in that time frame, too, with a nod to Halloween at the end of the book.  So Jazzi and Ansel are throwing a Sunday family get-together, Halloween costume party.  And Ansel’s pug, George, gets dressed as a devil.  My daughter, Robyn, and her husband had a pug, Bill, and we called him our “furry grandson.”  George is fashioned from Bill, who loved to steal the last sips of beer from bottles on the floor at parties.  He was the most mellow dog I’ve ever met.  And he loved to go for walks…until he got tired, and Scott would have to carry him home:)  So, accordingly, George is the star on this cover.  Hope you like it as much as I do.




IF I were smart

In Monday’s blog, I talked about Jenna Bennett’s 19th Savannah Martin mystery.  I’m impressed how she’s written so many books in that series, and for me, none of them have been flat.  None of them feel like they were written because she had to meet a deadline or a contract obligation.  I love reading series books.  I’ve read them for a long time, and I can’t think of too many authors who never wrote a book that didn’t live up to par with the others in the series.  So how do those few rare authors who keep each book fresh manage it?

For one thing, their characters and their relationships grow in each book.  But that’s not the only thing.  Another thing that factors into it, I think, is that they’re not rushed.  A deadline isn’t breathing down their necks.  They have the luxury of a little time to let their characters evolve.  They even let the tone of their books evolve slightly.  Things might get more serious when the characters have to deal with everyday issues besides solving mysteries.

Another factor, at least for me, is not having to write the same series back to back, over and over again.  I think that helps.  Not always.  I can think of a few authors who write as many as three  or more different series, but I can still watch the one I particularly like get stuck in a rut anyway.  And I think (I don’t know), it’s because their writing gets rushed.  They’re in a hurry and fall back on the same old things to move the books along.  It’s a tricky balance, though, I admit.  One reviewer complained because I use some of the same things in every Jazzi novel, but more reviewers like those aspects of the book, so I’ve kept them but tried harder to change them up a little.

Which leads me to the title of this blog.  I just turned in my sixth Jazzi Zanders novel.  It fulfilled my second book contract with my publisher.  Hopefully, I’ll get a contract for three more, but I never feel secure about that.  Publishers sometimes to decide to shift their focus and try different things.  Whatever they decide, I still intend to write another book.  I have an idea that excites me, and I’ve even started writing plot points for it.  I’m up to #22, and I’m aiming for 40.  I’m over halfway there.  So what am I going to work on today?  Finishing those?  No, the second Lux Mystery is calling to me.  (I’m still waiting for my agent to read it and let me know what she thinks.  Publishing is SLOW).  Regardless what she decides, today, I have to play with ideas for it.  Is it smart to stop work on Jazzi’s book?  Probably not.  I should finish the plotting for it and THEN move on to Lux.

Am I going to?  No.  I’ve learned that when my brain sends me in a different direction in the early stages of a book, it’s telling me it needs a break.  And thinking about a different book for a while can actually benefit the first book I was working on.  I’ve also learned about myself, that when my brain thinks of a wonderful, enticing idea for a new book when I’m in the MIDDLE of the one I’m working on, I can’t trust it.  It’s just me trying to avoid the middle muddle that slows me down and isn’t all that much fun.  Brains can be as tricky as writing.  Anyway, for the time being, I’m pushing Jazzi to the side to work on Lux.  And I’m fine with that.

Here’s hoping you know what works for you.  We all have different methods and techniques.  And happy writing!

Are you in the mood for a female Indiana Jones?

My BFF writing friend and critique partner, M.L. Rigdon/Julia Donner has her book, The Atlantis Crystal, on sale right now for 99 cents.  It’s a pretty darn fun read.  So I took this time to pick her versatile head.  Her mind jumps from Regency romances, to Western historicals, to mad cap adventure.  And they all have her unique stamp on them.  Check out what motivates her to write:

What gave you the idea for The Atlantis Crystal?

I have always been an Atlantis and ancient history freak and merged that with my respect for geeks. (My first TV crush was Wally Cox. It’s doubtful anybody remembers him.) I also admired the smart people in school. I had to work hard for my mediocre grades. Not a test-taker myself, unless it was essay, so the mental workings of brainy types were a source of fascination.

Also, I like fearlessness and got fed up with guys always being the ones getting to swing on the vines. Gimme some warrior, like Boadicea kicking Roman butt. Can’t tell you how long I stood staring up at her statue on Westminster Bridge. Indy Jones is fun, but I wanted a heroine more focused and flawed. She had to come with the emotional baggage women haul around and only forget about when driven by something else.

Dr. Philadelphia Hafeldt (don’t call her Philly) was molded from being the neglected child of two academic types—a reclusive father and ball-buster mother. She’s not confident in herself but trusts her intellect. She adores her archeologist uncle who encouraged her to explore. When he disappears, nothing will stop her from finding him, even though it means going back into a labyrinth where she was trapped when a girl and almost died.

What excites you about characters and plots?

Their humanity. They have to be interesting, not necessarily complex, just something that captures my interest, especially humor. Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City Series comes to mind, a lot of quirky personalities with quick wit.

What makes you impatient with a story that is enough for you to set it aside, unfinished? 

Huge mistakes and sloppy work. This shows a sign of disrespect for the craft that messes up my head. Typos here and there won’t make me stop. I’ve even continued with stories with totally gummed up formatting because I was so invested in the people and plot. Bloopers can make me laugh, such as coming into the room, shutting the door, sitting down to chat, and then somebody gets up to close the door. (This from a massively famous writer.) I just chuckled and kept reading. Or if it’s just boring. There are masses of wonderful things to read.

What did you like to read as a child?

Horses and dogs. All of Walter Farley. Lugged home armloads of books from the library during the summer. I wasn’t the history reader that I am now. I spent my early years surrounded in post Civil War history in my aunt’s museum in Galena, IL. Later in my teens, it was mostly the classics. Often I was too young to understand but became hooked on the characters, all that angst.

What are you reading now?

Mostly books my friends have written. Our writing group and extended writing community have so many talented storytellers of varied genres. Just got to beta read Judi Lynn’s newest. It’s smashing and made me mad whenever I had to stop to make notes.

I’m always rereading Austen and fact checking history. At present finishing up a terrific nonfiction work, Jane Austen at Home, by Lucy Worsley. I don’t read fantasy if I’m writing it, but loved Anne McCaffrey Pern series when I was younger. 

What are you working on now?

I must be nuts—four are started; the second in a fantasy trilogy, the fourteenth in the regency series, the third in a western romance, and I’m juggling ideas for the final Phil, Rod, Maddie and Binky adventure. Oh, and a regency mystery short for an anthology.

Never mind, I am definitely nuts. And I love my character babies, especially Phil, her insecurities and courage, her disbelief that a man like Rod finds her fascinating, when she sees herself as a train wreck. But then, we all know that it could have something to do with sex, and that can keep things interesting.

My contact info:

M.L Rigdon (aka Julia Donner)

Follow on Twitter @RigdonML

Blog: https://historyfanforever.wordpress.com/

Website http://www.MLRigdon.com



The Atlantis Crystal

And, the buy link: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005G3Z28G?notRedirectToSDP=1&ref_=dbs_mng_calw_0&storeType=ebooks


My BFF, fellow writer, and critique partner M. L. Rigdon/Julia Donner invited me to her blog today for a Q&A. She asked great questions, so it was lots of fun. I’m biased, but still picky, and I love her writing. You might want to check out some of her books. Thanks for inviting me, M.L.!


Judi Lynn, friend and critique partner, is offering a free chapter of her Muddy River Mystery series today. Since she has generously and repeatedly offered her blog for guest postings for my works, it’s time to repay, and I do so happily.

Muddy River is atmospheric, sometimes grizzly, and full of juicy characters, most especially her H&H, both wicked scary with magical powers. Neither of them mess around when it comes to kicking the butts of the baddies.

Something that has always fascinated me is Judi’s mind. She comes up with some creepy stuff. The contrast to what she puts on the page and what she’s like to be around and have as a friend bears no resemblance. I suppose it’s the same with acting—one doesn’t have to be a murderer to portray a serial killer. Although, I couldn’t look at Mark Harmon for years after he did the Ted…

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This snippet comes from my last Muddy River mystery, TATTOOS AND PORTENTS.  I hope you enjoy it:

I studied the dark ink, a Celt symbol. “May I touch your tattoo?” I asked Festus.

He rolled up his sleeve again, and I placed my hand on it. “I feel both Fae and witch magic.” Keeping my hand on the tattoo, I cast a spell, and suddenly, an image appeared in the air before us, a scene that played out as a movie.

We were seeing the images through someone else’s eyes. Whose, I couldn’t tell. But we were walking along a river bank, picking leaves and roots to brew for potions. We felt the sun on our backs, but the air was cool. Leaves were changing colors, and some had already fallen to the ground. Autumn. Late October maybe?

We could feel the seer’s thoughts and emotions. Whoever it was, was new to the area, surprised by how many varieties of plants grew there. She almost had her basket full when the sound of movements made her glance up. A swirl of spirits raced toward her and whirled around her like a gray tornado of dead souls. Wisps of faces flashed past her. I’d seen spirits like these before at the voodoo village across the river. I knew the spirits could do no harm, but this girl was frightened. She screamed, dropped her basket, and threw up her hands to defend herself. Then, she heard more movement behind her, but before she could turn, pain exploded in the back of her head and oblivion overtook her.

The scene ended for a moment of blank air, and then we felt her consciousness stir. The next images were fuzzy until her eyes focused better. A horrible headache made me press my hand to the back of my head. She teetered, unsteady, as she rose to look at her surroundings. Bars surrounded her. She was in a cage in what might be a basement. Gray, cement walls and a cement floor were lit by a lightbulb dangling in the center of the room.

She spoke a spell to unlock the cage door, but nothing happened. We felt her surprise and fear. She went to the door and shook it, chanting more spells. None of them worked. Trapped, terror raced through her. Then we heard footsteps coming down wooden stairs. Panic paralyzed her. She stared, holding her breath.

A tall, gaunt man shambled forward. He never blinked, his eyes glazed with no emotion behind them. His movements were jerky. He opened a small slot at the bottom of her door and slid a tray of food to her. Her stomach growled, and she realized she was starving. How long had she been unconscious?

She grabbed the bars with both hands and pleaded, “Please help me. Let me out of here.”

Unhearing, the man stood, turned, and walked back up the stairs.

The image dissolved, and Festus blinked, stirred, and gripped my hand. “That’s the dream. Every night. What does it mean?”