My flower bed started out absolutely gorgeous this year. Tons of daffodils. Some tulips and snowdrops and blue pushinkas. A few hyacinths. I had to make myself stop looking out the back kitchen window to gaze at it. It’s still beautiful. The tulips came up, along with blooming “money” plants, and now purple allium. Spring is a wonderful time of year.

I had a sag in energy for a minute, but now I’m back up to par, and I’m ready to write! I don’t know about other writers. I try to write every weekday, but this year had mixed results. Too much going on in the old house to concentrate like I usually do. But things have settled. My daughter has a new job as a traveling nurse, but it’s not in our city, so we won’t be able to see her when she works. Good and bad. I love seeing her. I don’t get nearly as much writing done when she’s here.

But I’m up to 30,000 words now, and the scenes are starting to roll into each other. I always start a book trying to lay out the gridwork, so that one scene rolls into the next. Now, it’s almost automatic. It’s starting to flow. I don’t have to work at it. That always feels good. Until, of course, I hit somewhere in the middle muddle, and then I curse why I ever decided to write. And then the middle passes, and I’m thrilled with the story again. Sigh. I’ve decided it’s just part of my writing rhythm. I’m not sure it will ever change.

At the moment, though, I’m a happy hitter of keys. My plot points are working and adding surprises I didn’t see coming. Everything’s on track, except for my usual worries. Is the pacing right? Does the balance work? I can never tell. That’s why I need my critique partners. If one of them writes “What is this in here for?,” I know I need to fiddle with my story more. But I have a while before I show it to them, so right now, at this moment, I feel good about my writing. Ask me next week, and you might get a different answer. Tomorrow, I’m pressing on!

The Waiting Game

I sent my manuscript POSED IN DEATH to my agent, and even though I know better, I always hold my breath, waiting for feedback from her. I’m not sure she’ll like a darker mystery or think I’ll have any luck selling something that’s not a cozy. So I worry. And I wait. I start out confident. I think I wrote a good book. My writers’ club liked the chapters I read to them. My critique partner liked it. But the more time passes, the more reasons I can think of why Lauren won’t take it. Maybe that market’s harder to break into than cozies.

While I wait, I started work on my next book, another Jazzi. And then I started worrying about that. Maybe I should have written that first. Maybe I’ve waited too long between books. I won’t have a new book to publish for another three months. .Maybe readers will have moved on to something else.

For me, part of writing is worrying. Not a totally bad thing if I keep it in check. It prods me to push myself a little harder. And it makes me appreciate the days when the words flow and turn out better than I hoped for. Somewhere in the process, the characters start pushing me whether I worry or not. And then I find a fflow.

I know this sounds crazy, but even if Lauren turns down POSED IN DEATH, I’ll feel better than waiting for her answer. The waiting gets to me. But I’m hanging in there and keeping my fingers crossed.

Should You Be Honest?

Writing is hard. It takes a while to get good at it. Selling is harder. And making lots of money at it is…REALLY hard. Haven’t gotten there yet.

I belong to a writers’ club, and all of us that have stuck at it are pretty damned good. But new people come and go. Some of them are realistic, and some of them aren’t. Some write because they love it and can’t stop. Some write because they’re looking for the lucky flip of a coin so they’ll become famous and eventually sell tons of books And some stick around and get really good but drop out after that one rejection too many.

I read a story once about a man who was a musician. He went to see a famous violinist–the instrument he played–and the man let him play for him. “Do I have what it takes?” the man asked. The famed musician shook his head. “No.” The man left, locked away his violin, and gave up. Someone who’d heard the man said, “But I thought he was wonderful.” “He was,” the famed musician said, “but if he gave up that easily, he’d have never made it anyway.” I don’t know where I read that story or who wrote it, but it’s stayed with me a long time. How much of success is talent and how much is perseverance and striving?

I remember going to a writing conference, and one of the speakers stood at the podium and went on and on, telling new writers every single thing that could go wrong to keep them from succeeding. I remember thinking how depressing that speaker was. Why not teach them how to make their writing better so that they might succeed? Which is more realistic? Doomsday or optimistic? And how realistic do we need to be? The speaker’s comeback: Do we do people favors when we encourage them even when their skills are miserable?

But I know this. A retired man joined our group. He’d been a popular radio announcer for a farm program. He asked me to look at the first few chapters of the book he was working on about his years as a pilot in the war. Every sentence was out of order. I had to number them and organize them into paragraphs for them to make any sense. It took me a long time, but he was so determined to learn, he not only improved quickly but turned into a good writer and sold his book. I’d have never believed it possible, but he did it. And it was a good book.

It Feels So Good

Readers have more of an impact on writers than they think. On the last two blog posts I’ve written about the book I’m working on now, a straight mystery, I’ve gotten comments on Facebook, asking if I’m still going to write another Jazzi and Ansel cozy. Those commenters have no idea how good they make me feel!

I love Jazzi and Ansel, even though Kensington dropped me as a writer. And yes, I plan to write more books in their series. But I have to admit, being dropped made me doubt myself. Lyrical Press did their best to promote me. They paid for BookBub ads and had me as a guest on the Between the Chapters blog they host. I felt like part of their family, cared for. But I didn’t sell enough books, and publishers are a business. So they moved on to try someone new, someone who might make more money for them. I understand that.

But I still love Jazzi and Ansel. And cozies. But it did make me think maybe I needed to up my game and to try something else, too. That’s why I’m writing POSED IN DEATH. I’m trying not to go too dark. I’m not even sure I can anymore. I’m a wimp when it comes to dark these days. But I did want to focus more on the mystery and less on the characters” lives. No warm stuff with families and friends. But even then, a little seeped in. And I added a romance. Who knows if it’s not still too soft?

But when I finish Posed In Death, I’m going to start my next Jazzi book, the eighth, BODY IN THE BUICK. I even have the plot points started, and I’m excited about it. Jazzi finds out she’s pregnant, and of course, Ansel is thrilled. I felt like a beast when I was pregnant, so healthy I didn’t know what to do with myself and the bigger I got, the better I bowled on my teachers’ bowling league. Jazzi will keep feeling better, too, and Ansel and Jerod will worry about everything she does. . . .

I’m over halfway through my current draft, but it usually takes me three months to write a Jazzi, so I won’t have a new book for a while, but I WILL have one. Don’t give up on me. I’m just experimenting a little now, a little unsure of myself. That’s why I wrote A Cut Above, a new cozy series. But Jazzi is still one of my loves. And I’m still writing her.

Cooking Up Trouble

Kensington sent me the book cover for my romance that comes out April, 2016.  I posted it on my author’s facebook page, but thought I’d wait to post it here until Thanksgiving weekend.  That’s appropriate.  I feel very thankful that Kensington wanted three romances from me.

For starters, I never thought I could write romance.  Close friends know that I’m not a romantic at heart.  I’m the girl who told every boy in college who had the nerve to ask me on a date that I’d be happy to go out with them, but I didn’t intend to get serious with anyone until I was at least thirty.  I had a game plan all mapped out in my mind.  I’d graduate from college, get a job as an elementary school teacher, and travel every summer.  Visions of exotic places teased my mind.  Once I turned thirty, IF someone attracted me, I’d decide if giving up my freedom was worth it…or not.

My family didn’t encourage happy ever afters.  My mom and dad had a rock solid marriage and were crazy about each other, but both of my grandfathers were rotters as husbands.  Wonderful grandfathers, mind you, but too footloose to be worth much on the marital front.  My mom’s dad drove truck, and he actually deserted my grandmother and his kids during the Depression, living well on the road while they stood in line for buckets of free lard and flour.  Why Grandma took him back, I don’t know. But being a single mom with four kids was no easy task back then.

My dad’s dad was a railroad man who dodged out of staying at home as often as possible.  He supported his family, but that’s about it.  Not that I can totally blame him.  Grandma T was about as warm and loving as a jellyfish.  I watched them and decided that men might be funny and charming, but only a few of them were dependable.  Neither of my grandmothers had anything good to say about men.  Ever.  If you fell for one, they started praying for you.

My mom’s sister married a spoiled loser (I’m not exagerrating), and got a divorce when divorces weren’t popular.  My dad’s sister married a man who loved bars more than he loved her.  The woman who lived across the street from us married a drunk, had seven kids, and her husband beat her every Friday night when he finished his beers.  I looked around and didn’t see too many prince charmings.

Safe sounded better than sorry, to me.  And then I met my John.  What can I say?  The man was persistent and a keeper.  We’ve been married over 44 years, and it just keeps getting better.  But am I romantic?  Not a tad.  He is.  Not me.

When I sold my novel, one of my really good, old friends messaged, “How Ironic.”  And it’s true.  But I found that I really enjoy writing romance.  I appreciate it.  I’m just not good at it in real life.  But I can enjoy throwing two good people together and letting them realize they make a great team.

So here’s the book cover for Tessa and Ian.  Two good people who are better off together than apart.  I wish them all the happiness in the world!





Is Being a Goddess a Good Gig?

I watch Nigella Lawson on the cooking channel.  Have lots of her cookbooks, and would love to make being a Domestic Goddess look as easy as she does.  She whips up wondrous meals for half a dozen friends or so, who drop by without warning, and makes it all look effortless and fun.  Me, just getting supper on the table every night for six people (more if the boys have friends over) makes my hair frizzy, my temper short, and my shirt splattered.  I swear, I can’t cook a meal without a grease stain.  But the point is, even trying for mortal goddess status is more work than I might be up to.

One of my other loves is Greek mythology with a little Norse thrown in.  My favorite goddess is Artemis (Diana to Romans), the goddess of the hunt, mistress of the moon, and Hecate at the crossroads.  She can be demure when she’s left to her own devices, but fearsome if crossed.  I kind of like that combination–a nature girl you should never tick off with some magic up her sleeve.  That’s why she’s my protagonist in EMPTY ALTARS.  But to the Greeks and Romans, there was a god or goddess you could call on for any occasion.  And each god had his groupies.  Made me wonder what kind of person would pick which one?  And why would that particular god appeal to him?  Even more, if you could be a god or goddess, would you want to be?  Or would it end up not as glamorous and carefree as it seems.  What strings come attached to the gig?

So….if you had your choice, would you or wouldn’t you?  And who would you pick?  Zeus/Jupiter–the head honcho who dallies around, gets in trouble with his wife, and can throw lightning bolts?   Aphrodite/Venus–goddess of love and beauty?  Or Hermes/Mercury–the clever, naughty god?  Maybe brainy Athena/Minerva?  There’s a dozen to choose from, and if none of them trip your trigger, there are Celt and Norse gods too.  Who’s your favorite?


Which Genre Are You?

My patrician friends read weighty, literary tomes.  Or edgy, witty novels.  Or sophisticated skewers of society.  Years, maybe centuries ago, a friend and I went to a writers’ conference at a university.  We signed up for different panels and classes, but both of us had the same experience.  The guest writer started his lecture, asked the participants what they were working on, and informed each of us that writing for a genre was equivalent to writing trash.  Three years later, we returned to the same university for a conference, and genres had come up in the world.  One of the guest speakers wrote and sold lots of horror novels.  Another wrote mysteries.  A third wrote YA.  The publishing world had changed.  Really good writers, with masterful language skills, chose to write genre fiction.

Still, to this day, when I banter books with someone and that person is an afficiondo of literary novels while I’m discussing the latest urban fantasy, I feel outclassed.  I feel like the plebeian of the reading and writing world.   Literary might have fewer sales, but it has more clout.  It’s sort of like being a Woody Allen fan.  I love his movies, but I know better than to admit it to most of my friends.  They just shake their heads.  Even though I think anyone and everyone would fall in love with his latest, Midnight in Paris.

Anyway, the thing is, I read lots of classics in high school and college.  I still read the odd literary now and then.  But the truth is, I’m a genre junkie.  I asked for and read two anthologies of short stories by Flannery O’Connor and Eudora Welty one Christmas, and I read every single story in each book.  I loved the word choices, the rich imagery, the luscious language that just rolled off the tongue.  But give me one of Ellen Datlow’s anthologies any day, and I’d whiz through it faster.  I like plot.  I like tension.  Character studies are fine and all, but I want something to happen in my stories.  Both southern writers are brilliant, but I like genre better.

The nice thing about genre is that when I pick it up, I know what I’m going to get.  If I’m in the mood to add up clues and wrestle with the question “why?”– I buy a mystery.  If I want a kick-ass heroine, I’ll spring for urban fantasy.  If I’m into world building, I’ll crack open a fantasy.  It’s not that these can’t be written with strong characters and wondrous phrases, those are the authors I keep buying.  But there’s a meeting of expectations when I buy genre.  And I like that.

So what about you?  What’s your favorite genre and why?

Take A Number

My husband, bless his heart, takes my writing seriously.  Whether he thinks someday I might actually make decent money at it, or whether it’s because it keeps me occupied and out of trouble doesn’t matter.  When my old computer died, he bought me a new one with more bells and whistles than I know how to use.  Actually, it has so much memory and pizzaz that I ended up having the best computer in the house.  That has advantages and disadvantages.

My computer knows more things than I do.  I’m a simple person.  I use Word for my writing, and I like to surf the net and do research.  I’ve joined a few chatrooms and even look at facebook now and then.  I don’t venture too far into the unknown.  But my grandsons zip from one thing on computers to another, unafraid.  And they love gaming.  They have an X Box and a Playstation 3 in our basement, and there’s an old computer down there, too, but it doesn’t have the speed they need for League of Legends or Runescape.  When their friends come over, boys divide up–some on systems in the basement and others taking turns on the computer in my office.  My computer.

I don’t mind sharing.  The boys know what they can and cannot do.  When they started middle school and had new friends over, I had one, small incident–and everyone swears it was an accident that they ended up at a racy site and my machine ended up with a virus–but it’s never happened again.  The fun now is watching the computer dance where kids sashay and side step from X Box to League of Legends to Runescape and back again.

During the day, the computer is mine.  I write on it until three, most week days.  After three, it’s fair game.  If I want to check my e-mail or look at my horoscope, I wait my turn.  They keep their part of the bargain, so I keep mine.  If I say they can use it, I try not to pull rank.  But I still get a turn, like everyone else–as long as I make it fast.  After all, there’s a line.  Boys are waiting.  Someday, when my pockets are fuller, I’ll buy them a whiz bang computer for the basement.  Or better yet, laptops that can tap dance and do homework at the same time.  Until then, we share.  And we’ve learned to tango and cha cha from one machine to another pretty well.


Writing and Food

I love to write.  I really do.  I need to sit at my computer and hit keys every day.

I also love to read.  I think most writers do.  There’s little better than entering an unknown world and living in it for a while until you turn the last page.

I also really, really love food.  My friends tease me that I’m hooked on the foodnetwork.  All those luscious ingredients, those picture perfect meals.  I can easily lose myself flipping through cookbooks and cooking magazines.  I can live in glossy pages filled with recipes as easily as I spend an evening with Mercy Thompson or Thomas Lynley.  I love Diane Mott Davidson’s culinary mysteries and Shirley Jump’s The Bachelor Preferred Pastry.  I can get hooked on a list of ingredients as quickly as I get hooked on a cliffhanger.

Bookshelves line two walls of my writing room.  Most shelves are filled with novels.  Four are crammed with cookbooks.  Just as when I meet someone who loves the same author I do, I get giddy when someone likes the same cookbooks.  I went to a chocolate party at Shirley Jump’s house once, and my heart beat faster when she raved about The Barefoot Contessa’s cake recipe.   My friend, Paula, not only shares my obsession with mysteries written by Elizabeth George, but she shares my passion for recipes by Pam Anderson.  Whereas I’m a sucker for French and Italian, my friend Joyce excels at flavors from Spain.  When we get together, there’s always a recipe exchange.

My husband and I remember vacations by the places we ate and the food that we tried.  My trip to New Orleans with Dawn will always be highlighted by a trip to Mother’s for its shrimp po’ boys.  Trips to Hilton Head will conjure images of buying steamed shrimp at a Piggly Wiggly to share with Joyce and Abe.  San Francisco is Crab Louis, a lunch with my brother-in-law by a window overlooking the bay.  Food, for me, is an impression of a city.

I enjoy cooking as much as eating.  I’m no fly by the seat of your pants type person.  Just as with my writing, I tend to like structure.  When I start a novel, I don’t just wade in and see where it takes me.  I need character wheels.  I need plot points.  To cook, I need recipes.  I follow directions.  I might tweak here and there, but I want a solid foundation.  I like cooking in mass.  I like filling a huge skillet, putting a meal on the table, and watching the food disappear.  I like soup pots and crockpots.  I like casual, informal, a table scattered with side dishes and a big salad.  Sometimes, plates match.  Sometimes silverware doesn’t.

When my grandson was little, we watched the cartoon Little Bear every day.  In one episode, the family has a feast for the winter solstice, and Tyler thought that a table, laden from one end to the other with all sorts of food was the most wonderful thing he’d ever seen.  I wanted that for him, so my daughter and I worked together and invited people over and filled our table with Tyler and Nathan’s favorite foods.  Nate–Ty’s younger brother–was really little then, but he still enjoyed the feeling of abundance.  I like that feeling to a lesser extent.  But I know, someday, my table won’t be as crowded as it is now, most nights.  Eventually, it will be just John and I who share a meal.  And I’ll have to adjust.  And I’ll learn to like that, too.

One rule I hope to keep permanent, though.  I don’t cook on Friday nights.  That’s for enjoying other peoples’ talents.  And donuts from the bakery on Saturday mornings while I watch new segments on the Cooking Channel is nothing to sneeze at either.

my writing group

I’ve belonged to a writers’ group–The Summit City Scribes–for more years than I like to think about.  We meet the second and fourth Wednesday of each month–often enough to keep us serious, not so often it becomes a chore.  We’re an eclectic brew of scribblers with no rules, no dues, no officers.  The only things expected of us is to show up as often as possible, to respect each writer and his/her work, and to offer the best critiques that we know how to.  We say what we like about the person’s writing and what we think he/she could have done better.  If we can think of a market that would work for the piece, we mention it.

We have a little of everything in our group.  Neil is a naturalist who writes newspaper columns.  When he reads, we know we’re going to learn about birds or migration paths, his experience at a state park, or a story about an adventure in his RV.  Paula writes mysteries, and we try to remember each clue and red herring as she spreads chapters over several months.  Ann writes romance, and we watch for hints that we know will bring the couple together before her last page.  We have fantasy writers, people working on children and YA novels, someone who writes nostalgia, and the occasional article or two.  But it all works.  We zero in on what makes for good writing.

The thing I love best is that each person comes at writing from such different angles.  Paula nails us on characters.  She looks for depth and multi-levels in our stories.  Mary Lou is a stickler on POV and using the senses to bring scenes alive.  She zeroes in on hooks at a chapter’s beginning and again at its end.  Linda cares about language and symbolism, about being real.  Ann won’t let lazy verbs slide.  She listens for word choice.  And together, everyone’s strengths become one powerful dynamic.

Our meeting goes from 12:30 to 2:30 in the afternoon, which makes it hard for people with day jobs to attend, but it’s what works for us.  A lot of us started attending the group when our kids were in school.  We could drop off our darlings or wave them onto their yellow bus, get a few things done, then scurry to our meeting.  And we’d be done and home before they walked through the door again, their book bags on their backs.

My kids are grown now, but I still like 12:30 to 2:30 for our meetings.  Evenings get busy.  Husbands come home.  Supper needs to be on the table.  There are other meetings to attend.  So twice a month, afternoons still prove a private time that I can call my own.  Many of us no longer need to race home.  I can dawdle.  So can some of the others, so we slip out to some nearby restaurant after the meeting to yak more.

I like both parts of my Scribes’ day.   The official part is a time to concentrate.  Three people volunteer to read at each meeting.  The first person reads for twenty minutes max, then we go around the table and critique the work.  Then the second person gets twenty minutes, etc.  Usually, we get to each person.  Sometimes, we don’t, but that means we got into some heated discussion about a story point or character’s motivation.  We don’t always agree, and that’s a good thing.  At the end of the day, it’s the writer’s story.  He/she has to decide what works for him/her.

I’ve listened to people who despise writers’ groups and say they’re a waste of time.   Or worse, that they do more harm than good.  Before I found Scribes, I might have agreed.  But Scribes has been invaluable to me.  Still is.  After all these years of writing–even after I’ve had things published–I crave my writer friends’ feedback.  They catch things I don’t see.  I’m too close to the characters, to the story.  I think I’ve made something clear that isn’t.  There’s a hole that a plot could fall into and never find its way out.  But Scribes is more to me than just the nuts of bolts of good writing.  It’s the company of writers.  When I’m wrestling with plot points or I need Atlas to hold the story up on broad shoulders, they reenergize me, recharge my battery.  Just being around them, talking shop, gets me enthused me again.

The second part of our meeting is just as valuable to me.  Sitting at a restaurant, rambling about our work or our lives, lets us become more than a group.  We become friends.  And writers make intelligent, interesting friends.  I consider myself lucky to hang with them.