Cheers for school teachers!

Teacher Appreciation Week just ended.  This year, it went from May 8 to May 12.  I taught elementary school for six years before I had my girls.  Unfortunately for me, the laws in my state changed so that teachers didn’t need Master’s Degrees anymore, and I couldn’t get hired back, as I’d planned, once my girls were both in school.  It was cheaper to hire someone new.  But I still respect and admire teachers.  That’s why I made Miriam a high school English teacher in my fifth Mill Pond romance.

Growing up, I had many wonderful teachers, but I decided to base Miriam on Mrs. Decker, who taught high school English.  She was sweet and charming, but Lord help the student who turned in a paper with too many grammatical mistakes.  I used her rule as Miriam’s.  If she assigned a ten-page paper, you were allowed to make ten mistakes.  When she reached the eleventh error, she circled it in red and put a huge red F on that page.  She didn’t even finish reading whatever we’d turned in.  She often told us she graded content, not things we should already know.

Mrs. Decker was happily married to our high school principal.  No one caused trouble in her classes.  No one would cause trouble for Miriam either.  She’s one of those teachers who can command respect with the raise of an eyebrow.  But she never married, and she doesn’t expect to.  At almost six feet tall and beanpole thin, she doesn’t consider herself alluring.

In FIRST KISS, ON THE HOUSE, the school year is coming to an end.  So is the school year here.  It reached 70 degrees today, and people were outside, working in their yards.  I braved my leg and went out to work in my flowerbeds.  My daffodils have already bloomed, and I wanted to trim their leaves–and the leaves of the “magic lilies”–so that the plants trying to grow near them would get enough sun.  I had to be careful because all of my purple allium (long stalks with rounds balls of small purple flowers) are blooming.  They spread a lot this year, so I had to work around them.

My flowerbed is a hodgepodge of perennials that spread so that they’re never where I planted them.  Miriam has the same problem.  Just like me, she loves Agatha Christie and wants an English garden.  She might have discipline in her classroom, but it’s harder in a flowerbed.  For me, it’s  hopeless.  My tall phlox reseed and grow roots underground to pop up where I never expected them.  My daylilies would gladly eat their neighbors.  No matter.  Wherever they are, they’re pretty.

I hope wonderful teachers bless your or your children’s lives.  Miriam’s story will be available on June 27, but in the meantime, if you’re a reviewer, FIRST KISS, ON THE HOUSE is available on NetGalley.  Enjoy the warmer temperatures, and happy reading or writing!


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Twitter:  @judypost


I’m reading Michael Connelly’s THE POET right now, and I’m jealous.  His hero’s a newspaper journalist who covers homicides.  A good reason to get involved in murders. Then his protagonist’s brother–a homicide detective–is murdered.  Even more motivation to find the killer.  His main characters are detectives and FBI agents.  He has an arsenal of experts to hunt his serial killer.  This all adds up to a riveting read, and I’m thoroughly enjoying the book.  A while ago, I read Lisa Black’s THAT DARKNESS.   Her heroine?  A forensic specialist.  Her hero, (sort of)?  A detective.  They have to get involved in cases.  To add more interest, though, they butt heads against each other.  Do I feel comfortable writing about experts?  Not even a little.

What did I choose for my mystery?  An amateur sleuth.  A tad trickier.  There has to be a reason Jazzi (short for Jasmine) hears what she hears and finds what she finds.  Hercule Poirot was paid to solve cases.  Jane Marple, on the other hand, often found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time–and was just thrown into the mix and solved the mystery because she noticed things other people didn’t.

Amateur detectives can’t knock on doors, flash a badge, and demand answers.  So, for one reason or another, they have to be personally involved in what’s going on around them.  They can be on a cruise, days away from any shoreline, like Jane Marple when murder happened.  They can have a best friend who’s a suspect, whom they want to prove innocent.  But there has to be a serious reason why they get involved.

When I visited the book store, I discovered that these days, when you write about an amateur sleuth, it also helps if you have a niche that adds to the mystery.  Dick Francis wrote about jockeys and horse racing.  Carolyn Hart wrote about a book store owner, Nevada Barr about a park ranger, and Diane Mott Davidson about a caterer–and she included recipes.  There are mysteries about quilting, tea, and fly fishing.   An expertise adds flavor to a dead body or two.

Another difference.  Most amateur detectives don’t have as high of a body count as police procedurals and thrillers, etc., so you have to make each body matter.  Okay, I’m being a little bit of a smart aleck, but a writer does have to get more mileage out of each victim. An amateur story can’t off someone every time the tension starts to sag.

In lots of procedurals and thrillers, the story isn’t about figuring out who the villain is. We meet the villain, often get inside his head, watch him pit himself against the good guy. The book’s conflict comes from hoping the spy/agent/detective/cop catches the villain before he kills his next victim or achieves his dastardly deed.  Multiple POVs crank up the tension.  We can switch from the good guy’s POV to the villain’s.  We know they’re going to cross paths, battle to a final showdown.  British mysteries often follow the detective around and try to figure out who did it before the detective does.  The same is true for amateur sleuths.  Solving the crime is the big pay-off at the end of the book.  The reader watches the protagonist gather clues, as best he can, and add them up.  If we can solve the mystery first, we feel clever.  Single POV makes sure we only know what the protagonist does.

I’m not much of an expert at anything, so writing about an amateur works fine for me:)  I like how personal the victims/witnesses/suspects become.  An amateur mystery usually feels more intimate, at least to me, but it is harder to keep an amateur sleuth involved in a murder case.  He’s not just “doing his job.”  The writer has to come up with reasons he’s doing what doesn’t come naturally for him, maybe even what he’d rather avoid.

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Stop #2 on my blog tour

I’m trying a blog tour for Mill Pond romance #4, SPICING THINGS UP.  This Tuesday, I’m at the blog Fabulous and Brunette.  Fun name, huh?

My daughter and grandson both love Thai food, so when I created a chef for this book, I came up with Tyne Newsome–a man who traveled widely after culinary school to cook in different countries.  His favorite foods, though, are spicy, especially Thai cuisine.  I can’t do super spicy–too wimpy–so I’ve fiddled with recipes to come up with something Holly and Tyler both like, and my hubs and I can eat.  I’m always stocked up on fish sauce, ginger, and lemongrass these days, along with sambal and chili paste.  The recipe I included for Ally’s interview has a little heat, but it won’t set your mouth on fire:)

If you’d like to pop by for the interview, here’s the link:


I really do have trouble with surprises

I’ve started work on my mystery.  I have 120 pages written so far.  And if you’ve read this blog very long, you know that I need plot points to hold my hand before I can cross a street.  I was feeling a little bit frisky this time, though.  I’m changing genres again.  I’ve written mysteries before.  If I wrote down the basic directions, the important clues and suspects, I should be fine, right?  I should have known better.

I plotted the heck out of romances.  They were new to me.  I always felt that I wouldn’t have enough to make it to the end and worried about soggy middles.  Romances, for me, are just as hard to write as urban fantasy or mysteries.  I’ve heard “important” writers bash romances.  I went to a writers’ conference years ago where one of the workshop leaders announced that anyone who wrote genre fiction was a hack writer.  Bull pucky. That kind of snobbery only works if you’ve never tried to write genre.

Mysteries?  They sort of have a built-in plot, right?  Someone trips over a body.  There are clues, suspects, witnesses, and red herrings, but not on every page.  I was hitting my points pretty well and  feeling good about it until I hit page 110 in the manuscript and realized I’d burned through half of my plot points.  I’d already reached the halway turning point for the book.  I was telling too much, too fast, too soon.  And that’s what happens to me when I don’t outline.

My pantser friends can write forty pages for one chapter and have to go back and cut to tighten things up.  They concentrate on description, feelings, and internal dialogue.  It comes naturally to them.  And that’s the difference between us.  Me?  I can fly through ten plot points in five chapters.   Then I have to go back and ADD the description, the thoughts and feelings.  I’m a plot driven person.

The reality came to me when my writers’ group went out after our last meeting.  I love our group.  We have a little bit of everything, and we all approach writing from different angles.  But then it occured to me, we approach LIFE differently, too.  I realized just how much I like structure when I was telling them that I have a “schedule” for cooking because it gives me a frame to hang my creativity on.  My schedule?  Saturdays, I cook beef/hamburger. Sundays, pork.  Mondays, ethnic.  Tuesdays, chicken.  Wednesdays, soup/salads/or sandwiches.  Thursdays, fish/seafood.  And Friday?  NO COOKING.  Now on Sundays, I might make pulled pork, smothered pork chops, ham, brats and sauerkraut, butterflied pork loin with a dried cranberry and chopped walnut filling. ANY kind of pork, but I make pork.  I bring the same approach to my writing.

I have plot points, but those points can be written any way I come up with.  I just need enough of them.  SO, I stopped work at page 110 of my mystery, and I sat down and wrote out 40 plot points, like I should have in the beginning, that included EVERYTHING that I wanted in my book–like character development, setting, and a romance subplot, along with a couple of other subplots.  Sigh.  There are writers who don’t need to do this.  I’m not one of them.   And then I went through my beginning pages again, and they’re much more balanced now.  I’m happy with them.

And what have I learned?  (Again).   There are pantsers who write wonderful books.  I’m not one of them.  I need structure to release my creativity.  And that’s okay.  That’s what works for me.  And if I rush or feel frisky and think I can skip that step?  Well…I can always do it later when I’ve hit a wall.

The Last Chapter of Bruin’s Orphans

I put the last chapter of Bruin’s Orphans on my webpage.

I wrote the book for my two daughters when they were young.  It’s a bit on the bleak side and has a folktale feel, but Robyn loved a book of fairytales that were a little dark.  She read Stephen King’s SILVER BULLET when she was in second grade and wrote to him, and he wrote back!  Both girls loved Greek myths, and those aren’t always cheerful.  When they asked me to scare them, this is what I came up with.  Just a series of little scares:)

When I first wrote this, I had an old model computer that stored writing on little, hard, square disks that I can’t use anymore.  Luckily, I had a paper copy, so I could type each chapter into my current computer so that I could share it.  Boy, am I not good at just plain typing!  Anyway, now I have it again for the girls.  They asked about it, and I had to dig around to find it.  I wrote a myth-type story for them that year, too, but it’s going to stay in the box for a while.  Typing isn’t my strong point:)

Also, just to let you know, tomorrow I’m starting a blog tour.  I’ll visit a different blog every Tuesday for eight weeks.  Each stop is unique with something new on each one. Answering all of the questions the bloggers sent was fun.  I’ll share the link here each Tuesday, and I hope you’ll check them out.




A Little Disagreement is Good:)

I finished the contract for my six romances at Kensington.  My wonderful editor, John Scognamiglio, told me that I could write three more romances for him, or I could try my hand at a mystery, because he thought I’d do a good job on those, too.  How lucky can a girl get?  My wonderful agent, Lauren Abramo at Dystel and Goderich, told me that it would be smarter to write more romances and build an audience, but being the true lover of WRITING that she is, she told me to do what I was most passionate about.  She’s more than a gem.  People who disparage editors and agents don’t realize how overworked they are and how committed they are to writers and the written word.  Yes, they’re the business side of writing.  But they still LOVE writing and words and books.

Anyway, I’ve always loved mysteries, so I decided to go for it.  Which means that I was starting over…again…and I needed to write a proposal.  And that’s when I remembered how HARD it is.  John Scognamiglio spoiled me.  As long as he thought I had enough ideas to come up with a whole book, he gave me a thumbs up and said Write Away.  He trusted me to figure things out as I went.   Lauren has a more critical eye.  She has to.  She’s the one who shapes a synopsis and proposal so that a publisher might want to buy a writer’s book.  And Lauren and I are very different, and that plays into things, too.

Lauren never gives me a Free Pass.  We hash over how she sees a character, compared to how I see that character in my mind.  If she thinks something’s not clear or a plot point is soggy, she makes me rethink it and rewrite it.  And every book of mine that she’s touched is better for it.  If we can’t come up with a compromise with e-mails, she’s happy to pick up the phone and let me know what she thinks, but she always ends with “It’s your book.  You have to make the final decision.”  Which sounds tempting, but she’s always so freaking right.

I don’t think I’ve ever rewritten, rethought, any book as much as The Body in the Attic (the working title).  I didn’t like the girl who becomes a dead body.  Lauren REALLY sympathized with her.  I sympathized with the person who stuffed her in the attic, and Lauren sent paragraphs about how she considered him sinister.  There’s nothing that makes you learn more and stretch more than a good, healthy disagreement about how you see your book.  We’ve both compromised.  And I’m happy with the changes I’ve made.  (I think Lauren would have liked more changes, but she’s satisfied with what we came up with).  The things that really bothered me about Lynda didn’t bother Lauren. The things that really bothered her weren’t such big deals to me.  Different world views. Different experiences.  No right.  No wrong.  Just different.  And that’s just plain interesting.

NetGalley for reviews

My fifth Mill Pond romance is available for reviews on NetGalley now.  Miriam is a high school English teacher who can stop a rebellious teenager with one raised eyebrow.  Take her seriously!  Joel’s daughter is nineteen, but will always be mentally twelve.  He comes to Mill Pond to open a brewery.  Will beer and literature make a perfect blend?



I’m not young anymore.  Things that used to be perky…aren’t.  Gravity takes its toll, and things shift and sag.  The same thing can happen to your writing.  The sales take a dive, and you have to work to lift them again.

When I got a publisher, I thought I could spend more attention on writing and less on marketing.  Not so.  Yes, Lyrical Shine lists my romances on their Facebook page and twitter.  They create covers and do cover releases.  For my first book, they did a great blog tour with Gallagher services    I got good feedback.  For my second book, they only advertised on their own Lyrical sites, and that book fizzled and died.  Any momentum I had disappeared.  For my third book, I got excited because they were doing another blog tour, but this tour listed the book cover, a blurb, and the same excerpt at every site.  People yawned after the second one and disappeared.  For my latest book, SPICING THINGS UP, they did the bare basics.  It was sad.

I still like working with Lyrical, but I learned a valuable lesson a little too late.  Even if you have a publisher, you’d better have a plan in mind to promote yourself when you’re a new author with little or no name recognition.  And hopefully, you’ll have a book cover that grabs readers’ attention.  When I self-published my urban fantasies, I never sent a bundle/book out into the cold, cruel world without paying for some kind of advertising.  Sometimes I’d go the $20 or $30 route, and once I went for broke and used BookBub.  NOTHING beats BookBub.  The problem is that it’s almost impossible to get BookBub to accept you, and it’s expensive.  But I more than earned out what it cost.  Using it when you only have one book online is a risky proposition.  It’s useless if you make the book free.  How will you earn back any  money?  But if you have a series, it’s awesome!  At least, it was for me and my writer friends.  I had a lot of luck with the Fussy Librarian, but it did nothing for my friends.  The type of genre you write makes a big difference on which site is best for you or not.

I can’t set the prices of my books on Lyrical, so can’t offer sales or specials on my own, so I’m going to try a different tactic this time.  I paid $65 to start a blog tour with something original on each blog, using Goddess Fish Promotions.  They’ve been every bit as nice to work with as Maggie Gallagher.  I chose a little different approach.  I’ll be featured on a different blog each Tuesday for 8 weeks.  It’s an experiment.  I don’t know what I think works best yet, so it will be interesting to see what happens.  And yes, once April 25th comes, you’ll be pestered by me every Tuesday for a couple of months.  And I’ve answered more questions than I’ve answered for a long time.

Every writer writes for different reasons and has different expectations.  I know some wonderful, talented writers who are happy just putting their books on Amazon and hoping people find them.  That’s fine.  If you want to build an audience, though, advertising has worked better for me than other things I’ve tried.  Social media helped until I switched to romance.  There wasn’t much carry-over.  Urban fantasy readers aren’t impressed with kissing.  I get it.  Kickass battles don’t compare to relationships and angst.  But if you want to find readers for the genre you’re writing, advertising can help.

If any of you have any methods/tricks that have worked for you, and you want to share, I’d love to hear them.   In the meantime, have a great Easter/Passover/holiday and happy writing!