Chapter 32’s up

Lucas meets his mother’s new husband.


Time to clean up my act

A few times a year, my writing desk looks like the pile in the corner could topple and eat me.  Character wheels, plot points, and marketing ideas get piled, one on top of each other, until it’s hard to dig through all of the mess to find what I need.  Now, don’t get me wrong.  My mess is organized.  I know where everything is.  It’s just getting to it that’s the problem.  It’s time to clean and pitch or store.

The bottom of the stack is full of things I wanted to read or reread, but thought I’d look at later–writing tips from K.M. Weiland, strategies to find more readers from BookBub, blogs that I found helpful.  But later never came.

The middle hodgepodge is made up of notes and reminders for my River Bluffs mysteries.  Each book adds more pages–more characters, plot points, and reminders about settings.  Jazzi and Ansel live on the north side of River Bluffs.  Her sister Olivia lives on the south side of the city.  What does Jazzi pass on her way across town?  I’ve made a rough map with detailed notes.  I’m trying to keep track of names I use, too.  I’m a Jenne Bennett romance/mystery fan, and she just put up her 15th book and 15.5 novella.  If I ever get lucky and write that many books in one series, I’ll never remember the names of minor characters I’ve used.  Names pop in and fall out of my head.  It would be easy for me to name a nurse Elizabeth in book three and then a waitress Elizabeth in book six.  Yes, in life, two people could share a name.  But I’d rather keep names unique in novels so that I don’t confuse anyone–especially me:)

The top tier of my pile is notes and ideas for the free romance I’ve been posting on my webpage.  I’ve been extra careful with those because when I started LUCAS, I meant to write a romance for each brother, three romances in all.  I’m not sure that’s my best idea, though.  My Mill Pond series is finished, so I won’t have any new romance to promote. The Body in the Attic doesn’t come out until November, so it feels like it’s too soon to post short mysteries to promote that.  I’m arguing with myself about what to do next.  I want to thank every person who “likes” when I post new LUCAS chapters, though.  Those “likes” make me feel good!

Whatever I decide to write or not write, my pile still needs cleaned.  That’s on the agenda for this week.  I have three big, plastic file folders filled with notes for each of my urban fantasies, tons of notes for Babet and Prosper, and ideas for workshop penels I’ve been on, plus a spattering of short stories.  It’s time lots of those go into bigger plastic boxes to be filed in the basement, so that I can make room for more current projects in my office.

Do you keep your old notes?  Your old manuscripts?  What stays and what goes?  Messy or not, I hope you’re writing!


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I can’t believe I’m looking forward to February

Last week, I started getting back into my nice, comfortable rut, my groove.  I found more time for writing.  I had my sisters and cousin over for supper Friday night.  And for the first time that I can ever remember, I made the supper a celebration of February.  I usually dread our shortest month.  I’m tired of winter.  I don’t want to see another snowflake.  I’m ready to search for sunshine.  But things have been so busy lately, I’m ready to hibernate, to be boring.

I gave my sisters a half dozen meals to choose from, and they chose homemade beef and noodles over mashed potatoes with a cucumber salad.  They love old-fashioned family cooking, so that’s what they got.  Beef and noodles take me a while to make because I start with a chuck roast, add carrots, onions, and celery, and build a broth before I add the Amish noodles and shred the meat.  Then I made my husband happy by asking him to go to his favorite bakery to buy whatever chocolate cake struck his fancy.  The cake was to celebrate the beginning of February.

giphy 3

January had been a strain on my sisters, too, and somehow, celebrating the end of it and the start of a new month made us all feel better.  February, for me, is going to be serious writing time.  My sister Mary had finished a big project at work and is hoping February is less stressful.  Patty and my cousin Jenny, who hate the cold, said they’re staying in more.  Jenny has to use a walker, and it’s hard getting her in and out of Patty’s mini-van when it’s freezing outside.  Heck, it’s a chore getting her inside our house with its four steps to the porch.  Patty doesn’t cook, so I promised to send over more leftovers so they don’t have to eat frozen dinners everyday if they don’t leave the house.

All in all, we’re all hunkering down for a while, and we’re all looking forward to it.  Whatever your plans, hope you find more time to write.  Happy February!


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A new chapter

I just posted chapter 28 on my webpage.  I’m in the wrong season–Lucas and Randie are prepping food on Wednesday night for Thanksgiving the next day.  Lucas is distracted enough by her low neckline that he’s lucky he doesn’t lose a finger.  His knife skills aren’t that great:)  This scene made me hungry for stuffing, but then, I’m always hungry for anything with bread.  Oh, how I love carbs!

Will the World End?

A long, long time ago, I bought a book by Donald Maas about how to write a bestseller.  WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL.  His advice?  The higher the stakes, the higher the demand for your book.  I’m writing cozy mysteries, and a few people have told me I’d sell more if I wrote thrillers or suspense.   They might be right, but I’m an Agatha Christie fan, and I like what I like.

When I wrote urban fantasies, the entire plots hung on good vs. bad.  If the good guys didn’t win, all things horrible would break loose.  The world would end, as we know it.  Okay, in truth?  That was a lot of fun.  But then I wrote six romances, and the stakes changed.  If the guy didn’t win the girl, there wouldn’t be a happy ending.  Enough to make me sad, so those stakes worked for me, too.

If as a reader I come to truly love and care about a character, I want him to survive and to be happy.  I just finished readng WHAT ANGELS FEAR, and the stakes were high.  If Sebastian couldn’t find the real killer, he’d be blamed for a crime he didn’t commit and probably hang.  Did that make me turn the pages faster?  I got every bit as hooked by Catherine Bybee’s FOOL ME ONCE, because I got totally caught up by the characters.  Yes, there was a lot at stake.  Secrets needed to remain hidden.  Could Reece win Lori after she found out he was a P.I. who was tailing her for info?  Before he fell for her?

Every book has to have high stakes, one way or another.  Maas would say, the higher the better.  What happens if the protagonist fails?  How devastated will the reader be?  But there are all kinds of stakes.  Emotional.  Political.  Career.  Reputation.  Books are filled with little setbacks, chapter after chapter.  After all, we don’t want to make it too easy for the protagonist, do we?  We try to end each scene with the protagonist wanting more, feeling a little defeated, until the very end.

I read Caleb Carr’s book, THE ALIENIST, when it first came out.  I haven’t seen the TV series yet, but I want to.  His protagonist worked hard to catch a serial killer, using psychology to understand the murderer.  The stakes grew higher and higher, knowing that if the detective team didn’t catch him, someone else would die.  A ticking clock is a great way to add tension.

Mae Clair uses past events to heighten the stakes in her Point Pleasant series.   The Mothman rescued Caden Flynn, and the “monster” and Caden have a weird bond.  When strange sightings start again in Point Pleasant, the past and the present collide, and Caden knows he’ll be visitng the Mothman again.  Is he meant to save the cryptid or destroy him?  (If UFOs and the Mothman legend appeal to you, here’s a link:

Whatever you’re writing, may your stakes be high enough to keep the reader turning the pages.  Happy Writing!

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Best Laid Plans

Okay, I like to have a sense of organization, of security.  Mind you, I’m usually delusional, but it feels good to THINK I’m on schedule, that I have a plan.  The thing is, life interferes.  A lot.  More than usual lately.

It started with November.  Now mind you, my next mystery’s deadline isn’t until March 5.  I’d already started it, had the rough draft three-fourths done.  Me–who is usually grumpy and borderline paranoid about my writing by now (This books sucks, won’t work)–was feeling pretty good about it.  Miracles do happen.  It looked like I had plenty of time to sneak in a free romance for my webpage and STILL finish my mystery with plenty of time to spare.  Looks can be deceiving.

I got a great start on my romance until Thanksgiving.  And that’s when my daughter was going to be inbetween jobs for a few weeks, and she was coming to stay with us.  I was SO excited!  Both of my daughters are just downright fun.  We were going to cook together, rent movies, and visit some of my hub’s and my favorite places with her.  And we did.  And it was AWESOME.  But then her travel nursing deal sort of fell through.  So did the next one and next one.  Yes, they offered her jobs, but not enough money.  What sounded good on paper wasn’t good when you looked at the big picture.  No big deal.  She was at our house.  Tyler (Holly’s son, our grandson) came for Thanksgiving and stayed a few days.  We had more fun, but my writing crawled to little or nothing.  But I was having a great time!  I’d make up the writing time later:)

I don’t know why I ever think I’m going to get much writing done in December.  It looks like I should, but December is…holiday month.  There must be somebody out there who still writes faithfully during a social whirl, but I’m not one of them.  The month crescendoed to Christmas, and then Holly’s second son, Nate, came home for two weeks of leave from the marines.  Jackpot time!  We hadn’t seen him since he’d been stationed near San Diego.  I’d been writing for an hour or two a day, but with Nate here, all we wanted to do was enjoy him.

Before I knew it, it was New Year’s Eve.  Nate left on January 5th.  Holly took another job in Indianapolis, but she didn’t start orientation until January 15.  She started looking for apartments, but that wasn’t easy either.  She’s finally moving in today.  She left our house after noon today.  And it’s going to feel weird for a while.  It was so much fun having her here.  We’re going to go through empty-nest syndrome for a week or two.  And then, finally, things will settle back to a sort-of routine.  I’m guessing Holly is ready to be on her own again:)  When you’re a grown woman who’s been on her own for a while, staying at Mom and Dad’s has its perks…and its downside.  But what a wonderful bubble of time to reconnect!  It was a blessing.

Now, I have to settle back into a routine again.  It’s going to take me a minute.  I’ve been cooking more than I’ve cooked for a long time, trying to make everyone’s favorites.  There’s a lot of food in my books, but nothing to compare to the last weeks.  Hubs and I are going to go simple for a while to balance ourselves out.  The holidays were pure delight, but it’s time to hit real life again.  And I think every single one of us is ready:)  I’m going to have to hit those keys to try to catch up.

Happy Writing, All!

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I love my writers’ group.  I’ve probably said that so often, you’re sick of hearing about it.  But I’m back to work on my mystery, and I finally read the first chapter to them on Wednesday.  I’ve rewritten the stupid thing so often, I was happy with the content, but I’d lost all  feel for it.  And, as always, they let me know what worked and what didn’t.

When I start a book, I’m in plot and character mode, and I have to concentrate on description.  I never get enough in there, so I have to go back and add it.  Now, in our group, each person  has their niche of what they nail best in critiques.  Mary Lou is a whiz at word choice and hooks, adding backloading for each paragraph and the ends of chapters.  Kathy Palm–a YA author–makes me think about emotions and description.  There were a dozen people there on Wednesday, and each person gave me good feedback.  I left my chapter at a happy place–a stupid thing for an author to do for the first chapter.  You want a hook to encourage the reader to turn the page and read chapter two.  So I fixed that.

On Thursday, I rewrote the entire thing, and it’s LOTS better than it was.  Thanks to Scribes.  It might even be good enough to survive the entire manuscript.  I’m pretty happy with it.  I admit, though, I go back over and over again to tinker with my first chapter, so it might change again.

The whole process made me think, though.  Even when I read books, I tend to reread most of the first chapter again.  What do I look for in them?  Characters I care about.  That’s probably as important to me as everything else.  Sure, I need a hint of what the book’s problem is going to be, but I don’t mind slow starts.  As long as I have a character I care about and a hint of where I’m going, I’ll keep reading.

I just picked up two new authors to ME.  Almost everyone else in the world has read John Grisham, but I’m not a fan of lawyer books, so I’ve avoided him.  Except he’s been around long enough, I thought I might want to give him a try.  So I picked up Sycamore Row and read the first few pages in the book store.  Then I bought it.  Why?  I liked his writing style and his voice.  Yes, he started–bam!–with an intriguing hanging.  But that, in itself, wouldn’t hook me.  It was his choice of characters that reeled me in.

The other book I chose is a good, old, 1811 London mystery.  with all of the fog and cobbled streets that go with that era–WHERE ANGELS FEAR by C. S. Harris.  The book starts with a prologue–a beautiful, young woman walking into a trap, and you know she’s going to die.  It brought back wonderful, fond memories of Martha Grimes’s pub mysteries and her fabulous prologues.  I love them, but I kept going and read the first chapter of the book to see if I wanted to read more.  This sounds cruel, but it’s easy to kill a person in a dramatic fashion.  It’s harder to keep the rest of the book interesting.  And I liked Harris’s main character so much, I started her book first and I’m waiting to give Grisham a go.  (My daughter’s reading that book, though, and she’s loving it).

In both books, the first chapter ends wih a mesmerizing line.  C. S. Harris ends with He’d promised Melanie he wouldn’t kill her husband.  But she hadn’t said anything about not making the bastard suffer.

The other thing that intrigues me in a first chapter, I have to admit, is the setting.  It can be mundane, as long as it offers something a little unusual.  For Harris’s book, she says, “She blamed the fog.  She wasn’t normally this nervous.  This afraid.”  A great hook.  But Jenna Bennett sets her Savannah Martin series in Nashville, Tennessee and makes her small town of Sweetwater, an hour away, sound intriguing because she grew up there and knows almost everyone.  The setting becomes personal.

For my chapter, I tried to include a great main character, some interesting side characters, a Midwest setting, and a story question that would pull you in.  And some humor.  What hooks you when you pick up a book?

It’s cold in Indiana.  I hope you can hibernate as much as possible.  Happy writing!  And happy reading!