The End

I just finished the first draft of my 6th Jazzi Zanders mystery.  I pushed pretty hard to give myself plenty of time to send it to my critique partners so I can work on their feedback before my May 4 deadline.  I’m excited about this one.  The fifth book comes out September 22, so this one won’t come out until spring 2021.  That’s close enough to Easter that I’m ending it with Jazzi’s Easter meal for her family at her house.

Writing about an amateur sleuth means that I need to have a good reason for Jazzi to be involved in each murder case.  For this book, I planted a dead body in her sister’s shampoo chair in the salon Olivia and her mom co-own.  Worse yet, the killer used Olivia’s favorite, expensive scissors to stab the new hairdresser she’d hired.  And since the shop hadn’t opened yet, and it was Olivia’s scissors jammed in Misty’s chest, she’s the prime suspect.

My daughter was a hairdresser before she went back to school to become a nurse.  And she swears that being a beautician made her a better RN.  She learned to handle any kind of client that sat in her salon chair, just as she now needs to handle every patient who ends up in one of the beds she has to cover.

For this book, though, besides Jazzi’s sister, I wanted to pull in another character, someone from her past–her ex-fiancée.  Chad has married since they broke up, and he and Ginger have been happy until she tells him that she can’t have kids.  He was honest when they met and told her his big dream was to be a father.  When she confesses that will never happen, he feels tricked, cheated, and he’s not nice about it, but when Ginger disappears, he regrets how he treated her and wants her back.  Unfortunately, after the police start searching for her, they find her body close to the town where she grew up.  And…of course, Chad is the prime suspect because spouses always are.

No one in Jazzi’s family has anything good to say about Chad, and Ansel’s only heard how horrible he treated her.  So when Chad asks for Jazzi’s help, he’s not keen on it.  I liked the interplay between them while Jazzi tries to convince him that Chad needs her.  He’s not jealous of Chad.  He just doesn’t like him, but he finally reluctantly agrees.

And for the first time in the series, I have Gaff and Jazzi respectfully disagree on where the clues lead.  That was interesting to write, too.

There was enough going on in this book, I had to be more careful than usual trying to pull all the threads together before the last chapter.  I’d planted clues, introduced characters, and they all needed to be there for a reason.  My fear was that I might have forgotten one of them.  I don’t think I did, but my critique partners will notice if I messed up.  There were more twists than usual near the end of the book, and I worked harder to make them land at the right places.  All in all, when I wrote the last scene, it felt good that everything added up and came out the way I hoped it would.  At least, it feels like it did.  Like I said, if it didn’t, my CPs will use more red ink than usual:)

Mystery Musings: My Brain’s BioRhythm

I’ve finally made it to my book’s last quarter, and as always, I looked at my plot points, and there weren’t enough to fill enough pages.  That’s a usual.  I think when I’m plotting, my brain can only come up with so many ideas and then it fizzles.  Pfft!  And I always overestimate how many pages I’ll get from each plot point.  WHY can’t descriptions flow for pages for me like some of my friends’ writing can?  Not padding.  All good.  But no, I write tight and can’t seem to expand as much as I’d like to.  So, it’s always back to the drawing board…or my version of an outline.  And I always have to reach the point where I panic before adrenaline makes my TINY gray cells think of a new twist or a little distraction to finish the story.

And just when I’m irritated with my Muse and my brain, it offers me a consolation prize.  Yup, last night, while I was fiddling with a scene, Ta Da!, an idea came for book 7 in my Jazzi series.  Then an idea came for book 8 and another one for book 9.  I scribbled them down and meant to push them away for another day, but book 7 wasn’t finished trying to tempt me.  And bless my subconscious, three different ideas came together in a swoop.  And a new character sprang to life to introduce as a recurring part of Jazzi and Ansel’s lives.

I’m crediting C.S. Boyack for the new character.  He’s been writing a series about the archetypes in stories for Story Empire’s blog, and his last post was about the Trickster.  You can find it here: https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/03/23/character-archetypes-the-trickster/

Now, forever ago, I wrote urban fantasy as Judith Post, and I wrote a three book series about a fallen angel.  Enoch was sent to Earth to clean up after his friend Caleb, who meant to join Lucifer’s rebellion, but Enoch tackled him and stopped him, thinking he’d save him from being thrown in the pit with the other rebels.  And he did save him from that, but Caleb was punished anyway.  He was thrown to Earth instead, and had a wonderful time spreading trouble and creating a new race of vampires.  The thing is, it’s hard to hate Caleb.  He’s a self-absorbed, careless Trickster, and I had a wonderful time writing him, so when C.S. Boyack did a post on them, I decided I wanted one in my cozy mysteries.  And bless my mysterious brain, it sent me a fun one to add to Jazzi’s stories.  If I can pull it off.  Tricksters aren’t so easy to write.  But I’m willing to give it a try.

I think every writer’s brain works with different chemical or inspirational impulses, but mine seems to work best when I least expect it.  Or when I panic.  Whatever triggers yours, I hope you find ideas and inspiration.  And happy writing!

Mystery Musings

Okay, I’m a writer.  Which means that when I read a book, I can’t help editing in my head as I go.  That doesn’t affect how much I enjoy a story.  I separate my editing brain from my reading pleasure, probably to the point that I don’t comment on things that bother me because I know how hard it is to write a book.  I also know how subjective my tastes are.  Things that other readers love don’t always hit me the same.  So I err on the side of focusing on the positive.  But then, that’s what I do in general anyway.  It’s who I am.

I do often think about what would happen if the author I’m reading came to Scribes, my writing group, and read his manuscript there.  Our group is eclectic.  It has a Regency romance and fantasy writer, a YA fantasy/horror writer, a newspaper columnist, an ex-addict writing a memoir to unglamorize drugs, a retired cop/philosophy teacher who’s writing about his experiences, two thriller writers, two literary members who write plays and poetry, a children’s writer, and a humor writer, among others.  And they’re the toughest critics I have.  I get nervous every time it’s my turn to read, but I’m so lucky, because each of them focuses on something different.

The last time I read, I took the first chapter of a new mystery series I want to try.  Not every member was there.  We only have a few rules and attendance isn’t one of them.  I really wanted feedback, and I got it.  I can go around our table–in my mind–and remember what each person commented on, because I know what they look for, and they don’t miss much.

The YA fantasy writer:  Where are the smells?  The description?  I want to be able to place myself in the setting, to see it.  I want more internal dialogue to know how she feels about what’s happened.

The poet:  You used too many general word choices instead of specific words.  I liked the active verbs and this phrase…  I liked the tone and voice, too.

The playwright:  You introduced too many characters too soon.  I had trouble keeping them straight.  Maybe hold off to introduce a few of them later, but good job on the dialogue.  It felt real.

The Regency writer:  I got the romantic interest right away even though you kept it subtle, and I liked the interaction between the characters.  You made the story’s big question clear.  I know where the story’s going.  This isn’t exactly a cozy, though?  Won’t you have to appeal to a different market?

The ex-cop:  You made the youngest brother a drug user.  I know that’s going to be a plot complication later.  The first chapter didn’t have the big hook, but I can see it coming.

The memoir writer:  I like how all of the characters are close and care about each other.  I can tell what happens to one of them will affect all of them.

The thriller writer:  I didn’t get bored.  It held my interest, but I like a big hook at the very beginning, something that grabs me.  I can see that this might appeal to some readers, though.  I hope pretty soon, you pick up the pace, give us something juicy.  Nothing really happened in this chapter.  It’s all set-up and hints.

The newspaper columnist:  It flowed well.  Nothing too abrupt.  The transitions made the writing smooth, but I got confused with all the characters.  Make them more distinct.

I’ll stop there.  You get the idea.  But I often hear their voices when I read someone else’s book.  Or I’m writing my own:)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Year of the Rat (we’re clever, and 2020 is our year!)

Okay, cyberpunk is WAY out of my comfort zone.  I’ve been known to read a dystopian now and then, but when too much science is involved, I usually shy away.  BUT, I’m a fan of C. S. Boyack, and his latest book is…cyberpunk.  I’m reading it, and I’m enjoying it!  I’m still not sure I’m a true cyberpunk fan, but I sure am a C.S. Boyack fan.  This book is fun!  So I invited Craig here to tell you about it himself.

Thanks for inviting me over today, Judy. It’s an honor to be promoting my new book, Grinders, on your space.

I have something special for everyone today because Judy and I were both born in the Year of the Rat, according to the Chinese Zodiac. Every twelve years our year comes along, and 2020 is our year. Believe it or not, it has a tie to the story.

Grinders is a bit of cyberpunk set in a future version of San Francisco. One of the things San Francisco is famous for is its Chinatown. Before we get there, I need to return to the rats.

Grinders are people who perform illegal surgeries that are technologically related. It’s like plastic surgery, but involving microchips and radio antennae, that kind of thing. Grinder tech is illegal, and the surgeries are performed in basements and garages.

My antagonist is trying to research a new bit of grinder tech. Because this is illegal, he can’t just buy lab animals to experiment on. The authorities would trace the purchases back to him. He uses a shady street gang to make connections to various trappers who can provide him with research animals. Prior to the start of the story, he’s gone through a lot of various rodents, with limited success.

The lone success is in the form of a muskrat his young son named Daisy. She has fiber optic whiskers installed in her face. They light up and change colors to reflect her mood. Daisy was a stepping stone to Subject Forty-Three who is a white rat. Forty-Three is the only survivor of a string of rodents my antagonist tried to install functioning gills into. He can breathe underwater, but isn’t necessarily inclined to do so.

This poses some problems for the antagonist, because he needs the rats to infiltrate the sewer system to retrieve some abandoned intellectual property. Is Daisy too big to fit through all the tight spaces? Will Forty-Three be willing to complete the mission? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

That’s when I had one of those writer’s epiphanies. This is the Year of the Rat. The story is set in San Francisco. I have rat characters in the story. I was born in the Year of the Rat. With cyberpunk being all about flashy environments, the annual parade was the perfect place to have the major event of the story go down. Since I was on a roll by that time, it’s also Year of the Rat in the story, so there are people dressed as rat mascots in the parade, and I tried to take it way over the top.

This is a little behind the scenes peek at my writer’s brain. One other thing that I find cool for authors is Pinterest. I don’t promote there, but I started keeping a pin-board for each of my recent books and series. I’m a pretty visual guy and some of you might be, too. If you’d like some inspirational images for Grinders, you can check them out here. It will give you some of that cyberpunk esthetic, maybe a case study for some main characters, there are even muskrats and rats in a few images.

It’s time for me to drop a blurb and cover along with that all important purchase link. I hope I’ve inspired a few of you to check out this cool story. Thanks again to Judy for inviting me over today.

***

Blurb:

Jimi Cabot made one mistake as a starving college student. When she went to work for the San Francisco Police Department, it nearly cost her the job. The union stepped in and they had to reinstate her. They did so by assigning her to the duty nobody wants, Grinder Squad.

Grinders are people who use back room surgeries to enhance their bodies with computer chips, and various kinds of hardware. Jimi is sure that if she can just bust one grind shop, it will be her ticket back.

Paired with veteran cop, she soon learns that Grinder Squad is a cash-cow for the department. They are nothing more than glorified patrol cops, and generally get the worst assignments.

Matchless is the most wanted grinder of all time. He disappeared years ago, leaving only the evidence of those he enhanced during his career. With these pieces, Jimi picks up the cold trail to try working her way back to more respectable duty.

Grinders is a cyberpunk story set in a world where global warming has eroded coastlines, and society has solved many of our current problems by replacing them with new ones. There are cyber shut-ins, cyber-currency skimming schemes, and more in this futuristic tale.

This book also takes the opportunity to poke a stick at current issues that seem to have lasted into the future. Entitled people, helicopter moms, overzealous homeowner associations, and lack of decent jobs are all present. Never preachy, these issues make up the day to day work of a patrol officer.

I hope you enjoy Grinders as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.

Purchase link: http://mybook.to/Grinders

cover for Grinders, C.S. Boyack

You can contact Craig at the following locations:

Blog My Novels  Twitter Goodreads Facebook Pinterest BookBub

Mystery Musings

Well, darn.  I’m a late comer to J.D. Robb’s Death series, but once I read the first one–Naked in Death–I had to read the second, Glory In Death, and the third, Immortal in Death.  I enjoy the grittiness, Eve Dallas’s character trying to stay true to herself as a cop while falling hard for rich and handsome, Roarke, who’s been known to bend the law, and the compromises they both make to make their relationship work.  The mystery never takes a back seat to romance, stays the main plot line with the romance as a subplot.

So, when I saw one of J.D. Robb’s books on sale, I bought it, even though it was WAY ahead in the series–#43 of the soon-to-be 51 books.  I mean, I’m so far behind in the books anyway, I thought What The Heck?  The first three books build on each other, but they were easy to read as standalones, too.  I thought Eve and Roarke’s relationship might have evolved quite a bit by number #43, but I expected pretty much the same type of story.  And it IS still a gritty crime that becomes Eve’s case, along with the usual cops who work with her.  And she and Roarke are still crazy about each other, and he still fusses over and helps her because he worries about her.  Nice.  But the TONE of the book really threw me off.  I found it so annoying, I had to make myself stick with it, and I have to say, it wasn’t until the last half of the book that I felt like I was reading J.D. Robb again, that she settled into the rhythm I enjoy so much.

Because books do have a rhythm–and not just words, sentences, and paragraphs.  It’s a balance of concentrating on plot, subplot, and developing and fleshing out characters.  I’m just as hooked on Eve and Roarke’s relationship, her interplay with her friends and fellow cops, as I am in the crime they’re solving.  And for the first half of the book, there was scarcely enough of that for me.

It felt like Robb was telling the first half of the book in staccato.  I went from one scene of Eve snapping orders at one person to Eve snapping orders at someone else.  I understand the intent.  It was to build a sense of urgency.  Which it did.  There was one shooting after another with intermittent interviews of witnesses and searching for clues because Eve knew the killer was just getting started.  And each time she struck, she’d kill more and more victims…because she could.  Occasionally, Roarke just felt like Eve’s lackey, and I didn’t like it.

Finally, a little after the first half of the book, Eve zeroes in on who’s committing the crimes, and Robb let more character interaction enter the story.  The pace settled a little, and I felt like I was reading one of my favorite series again.  The voice AND the tone felt right.

Everyone has his own personal likes and dislikes, and most people are going to like the fast pace and building tension of this book.  Robb created two well-developed villains, especially the girl.  A great character study of a psychopath.  And once I got to the middle of the story, I was a happy reader again.  I finished the book satisfied.

Just Do It

A little while ago, I tweeted that I’d hit 30,000 words in the book I’m working on, and going to the dentist began looking better than sitting down to write.  Finding the right words was like beating my head against the wall.

I’m now up to 37,000 words, and it’s amazing how much difference reaching the actual middle of the book can make.  Ideas are picking up again.  Every writer’s different, so someone out there must enjoy middles, but they’re work for me.

I have friends who are pantsers, and they often tell me that when words don’t flow for them, they know something’s wrong with their manuscript, so they let the story stew for a while to find out how to put it back on track.  I get that.  But I’m a plotter, and I fight with my story structure before I start writing.  So when I glare at my computer screen and curse whatever I’m working on, I know it’s just par for the course.

Now you’d think that wouldn’t happen when I have ideas for every chapter, wouldn’t you?  But the book still becomes a jumble in my head somewhere along the line.  Characters do things that aggravate me or don’t do what I expected them to or don’t turn out the way I wanted them to, and I pretty much don’t like the entire thing by then.  And I’ve learned from experience, the only thing that works for me when I reach this point is to just keep writing.  With my plot points, I know I’m not going in the wrong direction and I’m making headway, so even if the words stink and the characters are flat, I can go back and fix them…once I like them again.

My sad truth is that there are days I love writing, and there are days I’d rather toss my keyboard in a lake.  The good days BY FAR outweigh the bad, but to get to more good stuff, I have to glue fanny in chair and keep going.  This does NOT work for some of my friends.  Their stuff just keeps getting worse if their brain is telling them something’s wrong and they ignore it.  But for me, writing is as much of a discipline as a joy.  It’s like exercise.  If I stop, it’s hard to get started again.  So good or bad, it’s better for me to slog through it.

And it never gets easier.  I thought it would, but there are rhythms to my writing.  The first fourth of a book is exciting–introducing characters and new ideas.  The second fourth starts strong and fizzles as it goes until I feel like a tortoise trying to make it to the actual middle.  The third fourth picks up when the protagonist digs in and gets serious about meeting her challenge, but by the end of that fourth, I feel like I’ve run an obstacle course… and the course won.  When I finally reach the last fourth, it’s a race to the finish line.  I pick up speed as I go, and I might even like the book again.

I’ve gotten used to the love/hate relationship of each story, so when I loathe it, I know it’s temporary.  And I write on.  I understand the writers who start lots of stories and never finish them.  The sparkle wears off.  The writing becomes sweat equity.  But it’s part of writing a book.  So don’t give up.  Don’t despair.  Just keep at it.  And happy writing!

Mystery Musings

Someday, I’m going to Malice Domestic.  I intended to go this year.  It’s one of the big writer conferences for mystery writers.  Kensington, my publisher, has a presence there.  I met a few really nice authors at last year’s Kensington mini-con for the Midwest, and I looked forward to seeing them again.  My husband’s aunt and uncle lived in Bethesda, and we visited them a few times.  I love the area.  I love being a tourist in Washington, D.C.

Malice takes place in early May.  I meant to sign up for it in January.  But plans go awry.

My younger grandson is in the marines.  He called to tell us that he was planning on taking leave and coming home in May.  I’m a dedicated writer, but I haven’t seen him for two years.  He trumped the conference.  Last week, he called to say that he moved up his trip to March 4-24.  Yay!  But I have a book due on May 4.  Panic!  When he’s home, I still need to find writing time.

He and his brother mostly grew up in our house.  My daughter was a single mom so lived with us until they graduated because she’s a nurse and worked nights.  We ran the boys to school and Little League and whatever else was going on.  Nate said he wanted to spend time here, just to sit on the couch and hang out with us.  And for me to cook his favorite foods:)  We’ll see how long that excites him, but we’re thrilled.  Even though I still need to write.

BUT since he’d be back on base at the end of March, that opened up May.  Except that then my daughter, the nurse, called to tell us that she took a traveling nurse post in Georgia and would start work on March 23.  She said that it would be wonderful if, once she got settled, we could drive down to see her.  Our second daughter called to tell us that where she and her husband live in Florida is only five hours away from where our older daughter will be.  When we leave Georgia, why not stop in to stay with them a few days?  Which sounds wonderful.  And fun.  And we’ll probably do it sometime in May.

So, this year, Malice Domestic will have to wait.  Way back when I was selling short stories, I attended it a couple of times, did a few panels there, and enjoyed it.  I’d really like to go again.  Maybe next year.

Do you have any favorite conferences?  Which ones?  And why?