When I first thought of asking authors I admire to join me in an anthology, I asked a few of my close writing friends if they’d try to write a mystery for me.  And I got blank stares.  Okay.  Totally fair.  Because not one of them has ever written a mystery.  I got it.  But I really wanted them to write a story for me.  So I thought of an idea.

“What if we use the game Clue to inspire us?”

The game itself is copyrighted.  But I didn’t really want to base it on the game or movie.  I just wanted to help my friends get ideas for mysteries.

“What if we each choose a room?  A weapon?  And a color?  And use those in our stories somehow.”

I ended up picking Miss Peacock with a wrench in the kitchen as loose inspiration for my story.  Miss Peacock became Earnestine Peabody, a nosy busybody who’s trying to dig up dirt on the volunteer decorators who are working on a grand, old house in River Bluffs to sell so that the profits go to charities.  Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod sign up to renovate the kitchen, dining room, and half bath to help support the food banks in their town.  And as it happened, Earnestine was killed in the kitchen but stuffed in a hall closet, but that’s all right, because the game was only supposed to inspire us, not to be taken too seriously.

Which was a good thing.  Because my fellow writers went in all kinds of directions with the stories they wrote.  Mr. Plum evolved into a plum room in an attic, haunted by two ghosts, when Kathleen Palm sent me her psychological horror mystery.  I can’t say much more without giving away the plot.  Julia Donner, not content with one murder weapon, chose two for her humorous Regency mystery.  The poor victim had a bell pull wrapped around his neck and then he was whacked with a candlestick to finish the job.  And C.S. Boyack couldn’t find a weapon to his liking, so chose his own.  Had to.  A knife, revolver, wrench, rope, candlestick, or lead pipe wouldn’t harm Jason Fogg when he transformed. Mae Clair chose the hall, but put that hall in a castle for her medieval whodunnit.  And Rachel Sherwood Roberts made the conservatory the pivot point of her literary mystery.  D.P. Reisig decided against the regular weapons, too, and introduced one I’ve never heard of, a slung-shot, but it definitely sounded deadly.

So, even though we used Clue to get our little grey cells working,–and really, that’s all we needed it for–we all went in our own directions once it sparked ideas.  It served its purpose.  So from this day on, I’ll enjoy it as a game, a movie, and now as inspiration.



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:

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!

Writing: my New Year Wishes

This post is not about real goals.  It’s about the unachievable that I strive to achieve.  It’s my fantasy wish list.

Someday, I want to plot as well as Agatha Christie did.  I want to be as clever with red herrings and mislead readers as easily as she did.  I want to write a twist as unpredictable (at least, for me) as the one in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

I want language to flow from my fingers to the keyboard to the printed page that’s as lyrical and evocative and smooth and lush as Elizabeth George’s or Nancy Pickard’s.  I want the depth and layers of their writing, and still achieve the poetic essence that flows in Sharyn McCrumb, Sarah Addison Allen, and Alice Hoffman’s stories.  I want readers to finish a page of mine and marvel in the beauty of words.

I want to trigger visceral reactions strong enough to make readers bite their fingernails and squirm in their seats, like Stephen King.

I want the imagination and creativity, the originality of Neil Gaimann.  I want readers to lick their lips, amazed, at the directions my stories go.  I want the sense of intelligence that permeates Robert Reed’s or Theodore Sturgeon’s stories.

I want the sheer knowledge base of skill and craft that Les Edgerton flings out casually when I sit on panels with him.  The man reads five novels a week.  Studies writing.  Teaches writing.  And is never shy about voicing an opinion.  His blog is worth reading.

I want to marry fantasy with action and myths as well as Patricia Briggs, Faith Hunter, or Ilona Andrews does.

And if pressed, I’d be happy to have a career like Nora Roberts’s.  She can use romance as a foundation to explore the fantastic, like in Midnight Bayou, or to thrill with crime, as J.D. Robb, or to play with mysteries (Three Fates) or love stories (too many to list:).

I respect each and every one of these writers when I delve inside their pages, and I come away determined to write better.  This is not the typical list of famous writers to emulate.  I don’t need to be the next Shakespeare or Flannery O’Connor.  I admire literary genius, but I have humbler ambitions.

Who are your writing idols?  Who inspires you?  If a fairy waved a magic wand, and you could steal any writing talent you chose, whose would it be?

Good luck achieving your dreams in the coming year:)

P.S.  This is my 100th post, and I never thought I’d achieve that….


Writing–where do you get your ideas?

My good news is that my Death & Loralei novellas bundle went online last week, and I think it’s beautiful to behold.  The cover shows all FOUR covers for the four novellas inside the collection.  I’m biased, because I searched through lots of images before I found ones that felt right.  And then Michael took them and made them wonderful.  Thanks, Michael!

The bad news?  I finished drafts for three more novellas to post off and on for the rest of the year while I work on a novel.  I have them “in waiting.”  And since they’re written, that gave me an excuse to do another massive cover search, scrolling through hundreds of images, to find ones that spoke to me.  I’m beginning to worry that I’m an image junkie.  And the thing is, I don’t just save the ones that might work for the stories I have ready.  I find ones that inspire other ideas for other stories, so I save those, too, with notes for what I might do with them.  More ideas for stories than I’ll probably ever be able to write.

One of my friends gets ideas for stories when she reads news articles.  She writes mysteries, so when she reads about a unique crime, she cuts out the article and then plays with the idea.  What if someone else committed the murder for a different reason?  What would motivate him to stab Mr. X fifteen times?  What was the backstory that led to the fury?  And when she’s done, the crime is the same, but the story’s completely unique.   A friend of mine who writes romance asks herself what could make a really wonderful girl and an absolutely terrific guy meet, have instant chemistry, and then do everything in their power to run away from each other?  What traits would pull them together AND push them apart?

I get inspired by lots of things.  I might want a small character I used in one novella to have a bigger role in the next one.  So I ask myself, what is there about this character that could bring her grief?  It’s almost always in her backstory–which the reader might only get glimpses of, it’s only important to me–and then I do what I can to make her life miserable until she resolves her conflicts (inner and outer).   BUT the other thing that inspires me is an awesome image.

I found– cover_mockup_17 — this image when I was searching through ideas for covers one day.  And the mood of the image made me think of all sorts of story ideas.  The moon and girl suggested a witch story.  But the girl’s not on a broomstick, so what if people just THOUGHT she was a witch?  And for some reason, the colors and shadows made me think bittersweet, a tragedy of some sort.  There’s a tree.  People used to hang witches, didn’t they?  The birds made me think of Death’s ravens, that travel with him.  So I decided to make it a Death & Loralei novella.  My imagination took off from there.

Inspiration comes from all sorts of tidbits and places.  One of my friends uses music to inspire her.  Another reads a novel that she loves and asks herself What could I do with the book’s big question that would be completely different?  How could I take that character flaw and go in a totally different direction?  Another friend loves research and Regencies, so asked herself what kind of Regency romance she’d like to read, and then wrote it.  A newspaper article, a stray conversation–ideas for stories are everywhere.   May you find your inspiration, and may the Muse fill in the rest…with lots of elbow grease from you.

Getting the Writing Juices Flowing Again

I woke up this morning with thoughts of meatloaf and a novella running through my head.  The meatloaf, because I’m hungry for it.  Hungry enough that I’ll make it for supper tonight.  The novella, because the juices are stewing again.  My story is taking on life.

I’ve been away from writing for a while.  I worked on serious rewrites before the holidays.  That’s a form of writing, and one I usually enjoy.  This time, though, it was the third time through a manuscript I’ve lost all perspective on, I’ve looked at it so much.  But rewrites are different than sitting in front of a blank computer screen and asking myself, How do I bring this story to life?

The first time I asked myself that question, I only got a sorry, “this might work,” nothing that excited me solution.  If it didn’t excite me, it sure wasn’t going to entice a reader.  The second time, I didn’t fare much better.  Had my creativity flown the coop?  Taken a vacation?  I always panic for a minute and wonder if my writing skills are infinite or finite.  Can I use them up?  I could have wrestled some ideas to make them work, but more often than not, that shows.  It’s a bare-boned attempt, driven by plot points with not enough flesh or emotion.  The spark never really clicks, and the scene falls as flat as the lack of inspiration.

My brain wasn’t built to go from zero miles an hour to ninety.  It was just warming up.  That’s when I give it more time to play.  This was the third story in a series that I based on the setting in Fabric of Life, one of my novels.  So I thought back to the characters I’d created.  Usually, when I think about them–how they interact, what they want, what they’re doing in their world–ideas start percolating.   I know the main plot of the story before I ever start, but the journey from point A to point Z is driven by my characters and the decisions they make.  And this morning, before I opened my eyes, I could see Sheri getting ready to play her keyboard at the Fourth of July celebration in Emerald Hills.  Her nephew and his wife are saving her a spot on their blanket to watch the fireworks.  She’s looking forward to seeing old friends and having a picnic, but I know Fate has lots more in store for her.  She’s in for lots more than she bargained for.  And now, I can’t wait to start writing.

(Here’s a link for the first Emerald Hills novella, More Than Bonbons: it’s available at amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, smashwords, and more) (1)