It Sucks to be an Ex

What goes in but doesn’t always come back out? Prisoners. In my Jazzi and Ansel cozy, The Body in the Apartment, I introduced Jarrett, a man who’s been in and out of prison and doesn’t want to return. He’s really trying to find a job, a place to live, and go straight, but most people don’t think an ex-con will stay an ex. That’s when Jerod’s dad, Eli, decides to give him a break and hires him to work in his garage.

In the book I’m working on now, Jarrett returns as a character. He’s still working as a mechanic for Eli, and he and Brianne are living rent-free in an apartment because he works as a part-time maintenance man, fixing whatever needs done there. She goes to school to become a hairdresser and he’s taking classes to get certified for working on foreign cars. All is going well for them until Vince, a mechanic Jarrett likes and respects, begins cheating customers to skim money. Jarrett catches him and warns him to stop or he’ll turn him in. Vince keeps doing it. Vince was nice to Jarrett when he first started working in the garage. He taught him the ropes, but Eli was even nicer to him, so Jarrett does what he doesn’t want to…and tells Eli what Vince is doing. Eli fires him, and two days later, Vince gets killed.

Jake, a fellow mechanic, immediately blames Jarrett. “Once a criminal, always a criminal.” But Eli wants to know the truth and asks Jazzi to ask around to see if she can learn anything. Everyone agrees that something big was bothering Vince or he’d have never cheated customers or stooped to stealing money from Eli. And everyone suspects the problem had something to do with Vince’s brother, Kevin. Kevin loses one job after another, always has money problems, and always turns to Vince for help. This time, helping his brother might have been the death of him.

I’ve finished the first fourth of The Body in the Buick, and the set-up kept me thinking. Now I’m starting the second fourth, and Jazzi and Gaff start digging for answers. Lots more words to go!

Oh, forgot to say. Happy October!

Mystery Musings

I’m working on my second Lux mystery, and I’ve finally reached 19,000 words.  I’ve finished the first fourth of the book, and for now, I’m happy with it.   I’ve introduced the book’s big question (who committed the murder since it’s a mystery) and a subplot (The Johnson siblings’ grandmother is moving to Summit City to live with their mom and dad, and no one’s happy about it).  Grandma Johnson is a bitter, outspoken woman, who fell and broke her hip, so she needs care until she’s better, maybe for the rest of her days.  Lux, a freelance writer, is working on an article on aging, so Grandma Johnson ties into the research she’s doing for it.

Lux gets involved in solving the book’s murder because the victim is Cook’s nephew.  Cook worked for Lux’s parents and was always there for her.  She loves Cook so much that she convinces her to move to Summit City, too, along with her oldest sister.  Things get complicated when Cook’s nephew’s body is found in one of Lux’s storage units.  He was murdered while he was stealing things from her.

I always enjoy writing the set-up of a book.  That’s when I try to make my characters come to life as I throw them into the story.  It’s where I try to plant readers in the setting and describe the house, town, and surroundings through action.  And it’s where the important changes happen in my protagonist’s life that make her take action to fix things.

In my first Lux book, I started with more background information than usual.  I felt that the story needed it.  But usually, I tread lightly when sprinkling background into my writing.  I need to know all of that information, but the reader doesn’t necessarily need much of it.  C.S. Boyack wrote a great post on this for Story Empire.  He showed the drip, drip, drip method of feeding readers information.  Writers can go from sparse to a lot more.  I often end up in the middle.  Here’s Craig’s article:

I’m now heading into the second fourth of the book.  Lux is ready to dig into finding clues and making things work.  Of course, ten or so chapters from now when I reach the middle of the plot line, there’ll be another twist and she’ll have to shift directions.  Nothing can be that easy for a protagonist.  So she’ll be keeping me busy for a while now.  And that’s the joy of writing.  One fourth of the novel done.  Three-fourths to go.  And so far, the middle muddle hasn’t slowed me down.

A busy April

Our daughter drove from Indianapolis to visit us yesterday.  Her birthday was March 28th, but she worked too much to celebrate it.  We wanted to do something special for her, so we made reservations at The Oyster Bar–a small, crowded, quaint bar known for its upscale, wonderful menu.  The bar is so small, it has tables on one side of the room and tables on the opposite side that are so close to each other, I had to turn my walker sideways to sidle through the center to our seats.  It’s a good thing my leg’s better now, but it was worth it.  The food was wonderful; the atmosphere was warm and friendly.

Holly’s staying with us again tonight, so I’m making Cajun shrimp fettucini for her for supper.  She’s a pasta lover.  We’re having a wonderful visit, and when she leaves tomorrow, it will be hard to get back in gear.  But I need to knuckle down and start cranking out pages.

It always feels like it takes forever to accumulate any pages when I start a new book.  I do character wheels and know the big stuff about the major players in my story before I start, but I learn their nuances as I go.  I need to listen to them, understand them.  I have a setting in mind, but I need to walk around in it, drive from one end of town to the other, before I can live there.  And I keep thinking of more details, so I have to go back and tinker with earlier scenes, fine-tuning them, before I can move on.

In the mystery I’m working on now, I want the grandma to be a bit senile.  Sometimes she lives in the present, sometimes she lives in the past.  I decided I could show that by what she calls my protagonist, Jazzi (a nickname for Jasmine).  When she hugs her and says, “Good to see you, Jazzi,” her mind is clear.  When she says, “You’ve always spoiled me, Sarah,” she’s talking to her dead sister and whatever she tells you is suspect.  That’s fun for a mystery.

I’m up to page 71 now, and the set up is beginning to fall into place.  I’ve introduced most of the characters who’ll inhabit the book.  My goal, always, is to finish the set-up by the first fourth of the book–in this case, at about 80 pages.  I’m almost there.  And then it’s time to dig for clues to solve the murder.  The vast middle lies ahead of me.

Our friends who moved to Carolina are stopping in Fort Wayne on their way to visit their son in Chicago on April 13.  By then, I’ll be pretty sick of pounding out pages, so it will be a nice change of pace to see them.  I’ve invited them and some of our mutual old friends to our house for supper that night.  It will be fun.  And that will lead right into Easter and ham and carrot cakes.  More fun.  So I’ll be ready to hit the keys again for the second half of April.  The girl who grew up across the street from us, who’s my daughter’s best friend, is coming to town on the last weekend of April, so we’ll get to see her, too.

April looks like a good month.  Hope it is for you, too.  And happy writing!

P.S.  I put up chapter 1 of Bruin’s Orphans on my webpage if you want to check it out.


When writers on panels used to talk about themes, I never really knew if my stories had any.  I don’t start a book and say to myself, This is the theme.  Instead, I get an idea.  For LOVE ON TAP, I needed a woman chef to come to Mill Pond to work at Ian’s inn, because I wanted to write the story from her POV. Why did she come?  Because she fell in love, got married, had two small children, and then her military husband got killed overseas.  Now, she’s a single mom, trying to juggle raising her kids with her job as a chef.  It’s tricky, so she leaves the prestigious restaurant she cooks at in New York to work at Ian’s resort in Mill Pond.  That way, she can spend more time with Aiden and Bailey and keep them close.  Time passes, and she finally starts thinking she might want more in life.  She might be ready to meet someone new.  And therein starts the romance.  It’s a slower start than usual, and to be honest, I’m a little worried about that, but Paula’s been out of the dating scene for a while.  She’s only dipping her toe in the water, and she’s out of practice.  Heck, she doesn’t even get it right the first time.

Luckily for her, she lives in Mill Pond.  And when Ian’s resort gets so busy she’s working as many hours as she did in New York, Ian decides that she needs an assistant chef.  Enter hottie, world-traveler Tyne Newsome, whom she loves like a brother.  Period.  He has no interest in her, either, but oh, does he love to give her free advice.  And he’s sure she’s picked the wrong guy.  Worse, he tries to steer her in what he considers the right direction.

That’s the set-up for the book, and after I figure that out, then the book’s characters start jabbering in my head, ready to dive into their roles.  I get attached to them and a story unravels as the protagonist tries to find what she needs to be happy again.  I’m usually finishing the book before I recognize its theme.  For LOVE ON TAP, I dealt with being a single mom who loves her kids and her career, who searches for a man who’ll make her happy, but will also add to her children’s lives.  The book also touches on how to move forward when a spouse dies, how to move past grief.

Every genre has certain, built-in expectations.  Mysteries deal with crime.  Suspense pits a good guy against a bad guy or situation.  Thrillers have a ticking clock.  Fantasy often deals with a quest, and romance deals with a happy-ever-after.  But those are just the frames the stories are built on.  Themes give them depth.  But don’t worry if you sit down and have no idea what that theme will be.  Usually, your characters will tell you.


I posted a short snippet from Love On Tap on my webpage, if you’re interested:

Author Facebook page:

Twitter:   @judypost

Writing & Worrying

I’ve started working on a third romance novel. If you read my news earlier, I signed a 3-book deal with Kensington e-books. I’m ahead of schedule on deadlines, so I can do happy dances and buy a special bottle of wine. I can celebrate. But once Monday morning looms again, I’ll be back at my keyboard, trying to pound out 7 to 10 pages to finish a new chapter. It’s what grounds me.

So why the “worrying” in my title? I’m ahead of schedule and happy with the book I’m working on. But… I’ve never been good at writing the same-old, same-old. I really enjoyed writing the first romance. It has a lot of humor, which I didn’t think I’d be good at, but it fit my two protagonists. I was “hearing” them in my mind, so the humor just came. The second romance had a smart-ass protagonist, so she came up with comebacks that I’d never think of on my own. But both romances followed the norm. Boy and girl meet. There are sparks, and eventually they get together. A proven formula. So what did I do for book 3? Fiddle with it, of course. Lord forbid I should feel comfortable and repeat what had worked for me.

One of the things that kills book series for me is when I feel like the writer found a formula and I can memorize the rhythm because it’s the same, book after book after book. By the time I’m on the third book and I feel like I’ve read it before, just with different names and settings, I’m done. Now, mind you, most of these series run a long time, so readers obviously don’t have a problem with it. But I lose interest, and it’s the same with my writing. I like to change it up. For this book, I want the protagonist to be interested in the wrong guy, but it’s made it a challenge to find a set-up that lets the reader know the right guy is in the wings, but neither of them know it. I have the first fourth of the book finished–at least, a draft to work with, and I’m still doing the juggling act of Paula saying “I want him,” but the reader knows she should kick him to the curb. And it’s been fun.

I might have to tweak my early chapters, but my daughters kissed quite a few frogs before they found their handsome princes, (and even then, one of the princes didn’t work out), so it’s a pretty normal happenstance. I just have to make it work.

By the way, I have three Mill Pond, short-short romances on my webpage, if you’re interested: You can click on them at the end of the left column.

Twitter: @judypost