BACK TO BASICS: Writers’ Boot Camp Part III

 by Miko Johnston

Last year I began the BACK TO BASICS series with BEGINNINGS and then presented MIDDLES, so as this is my first post of 2021, I’m beginning by ending the series with ENDINGS.

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Congratulations. You’ve grabbed the reader’s attention with your opening and kept them rapt through your middle chapters. Don’t spoil things now with a disappointing or frustrating finale – the pages that comprise the lead-up to the climax through the final sentence. 

An off-putting beginning may discourage a reader, and when asked she’ll say, “I couldn’t get into it, but you might like it”. A problematic middle will dampen her interest, but she’ll likely continue, hoping for redemption. However, a bad ending will exasperate her. She’ll fume over wasting her money buying the book and wasting her time reading through to the end, and she’ll badmouth the book to everyone she’s ever met.

Am I right?

Once you’ve convinced a reader to buy your book, you don’t want to ruin all the time they’ll invest in reading it with an ending that falls flat, doesn’t make sense, or comes out of nowhere.  

A good ending must appeal to our emotions as well as our logic; move us, make us think, but also make sense. The best ending, simply put, satisfies the reader. This is not synonymous with a happy ending, which too often can be trite. It means the story finishes in a way the reader feels is plausible, based on what happened throughout the pages. She may be pleasantly surprised it didn’t turn out as expected, but as it ought to have concluded. Or she may be left wanting the story to go further and view the end as merely a good stopping point, which it should if you’re writing a series. Genres often dictate the type of ending needed – the detective solves the murder, the cop catches the criminal, the lovers beat all odds and wind up together. 

To conclude your novel successfully, first consider what doesn’t make a good ending:

1 – A lack of any closure. The point of the story must be resolved. You don’t have to spell everything out, but too many story threads left hanging will frustrate the reader. 

2 – Too ambiguous. You can leave some details to the reader’s imagination, but not the entire plot.

3 – Too neat. The opposite problem; tying up too much or having everything work out perfectly defies credulity.

4 – Too rushed. You want to build tension as you approach your final pages. A fast pace can produce excitement, but slow it down enough to generate that tension.

5 – Too drawn out. If you slow the pace too much you won’t generate tension and worse, you’ll lose the reader’s attention.

6 – Too contrived. Also known as deux ex machina or “the Martians landed”, this ending comes out of thin air with no foreshadowing in the story.

7 – Too predictable. Even if we know how the story will probably end, we still want something satisfying before we close the book.

8 – No ending. The story just stops.

If you’re wondering what satisfies readers you have only to look at book review sites like Amazon and Goodreads, which offer (usually) genuine critique. Your own experience as a reader will inform you as well. Classic endings include:

1 – Resolved: Effective in stand-alone stories where the protagonist has a goal and achieves it. The detective solves the murder. The lovers reunite. The operation is successful. This works best if it involves some plot twist, surprise or emotional satisfaction.

2 – Unresolved: Commonly used in literary fiction, where the point is to give the reader something to consider, or evoke an emotion. It’s often seen in series, where some plot elements are left for the next book, but trickier to pull off in a stand-alone. There’s a fine line between unresolved and ambiguous, so even when done well, many readers don’t find this type of conclusion satisfying.

3 – Open-ended: This is an implied ending, which like the unresolved ending, can frustrate readers who want to know, not contemplate, what happens. It differs from the unresolved ending in that the reader gets a sense of how the story turns out through foreshadowing in earlier chapters, or it might leave the plot open to interpretation, but complete the protagonist’s arc.

4 – The twist: Also known as a surprise ending. It differs from the contrived ending because it’s been adequately set up throughout the plot by lacing the story with subtle clues. Twist endings delight readers of mysteries, but it also works in other genres.

5 – Book-ended: I mentioned this in Part I of Writer’s Boot Camp. If you begin your story with the lead-up to the climax, complete the circle by returning to that moment at the end. Or, instead of pairing an action, create a symbolic book-end by repeating the theme of your opening, very effective in stories about never-ending battles like fighting crime, spies or terrorists.

6 – Statement or summation: This can complement or a contrast a statement or explanation beginning, and like it, tends to be cerebral. A successful version will be metaphorical rather than concrete, leaving the reader with something to think about, or picturing what happened and imagining what will happen next.

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The one element all good ending have in common is that they’re successful only when properly set up throughout the pages.

Still struggling? If your finale lacks closure or is muddled, it might be because you didn’t resolve enough story threads. Fix that with addition and subtraction – add enough details to flesh out critical plot point and edit out non-critical bits like multiple red herrings and extraneous characters or storylines.

If the pacing is off, decide whether you’ve rushed or dragged out the climax. If it’s the former, intensify the ending by delaying the payoff enough to create tension. Emotional reactions, thoughts, reasoning out, or physical actions like running, arguing or physically fighting can slow down a rushed pace with added conflict. Trimming might be enough to fix a plodding climax. Shortening sentences to an almost staccato rhythm speeds up the pace as well.

Does your protagonist feature prominently in the resolution of the story? There’s a reason a common synonym for protagonist is hero – we want our characters to be pro-active in bringing about the conclusion of the story. Make them active participants in their quest and its success or failure.

If pacing and character aren’t the problem, then consider the tone. Have you maintained continuity throughout? Can you justify your protagonist’s arc? I’ve read books that changed genres or mood along the way. In some cases the end bears little resemblance to the beginning. Find the scene where you lost your way and let it guide you to what and how much needs revising.

What if you don’t know the ending, or aren’t sure of how to bring it about?

I introduced the idea of writing different beginnings in Part I. It also works in reverse. If you’re unsure of how the story should end, consider the different possibilities and write out a few. See which works best with what you have. For example, if you can’t think of a good twist ending to your mystery, attempt a book-ended or a resolved ending. It may yield an idea for your story’s climax. Or, if you can’t decide between several endings, consider making it open-ended by inserting clues from the potential conclusions into the plot. Then the reader can decide for herself.

If you can’t seem to get to the ending you’ve planned, try the bridge technique outlined in Part II.  Link up the ending with the last chapters you’ve completed by working backwards for a while, then move the story forward to that point.

I hope the techniques I’ve outlined in this series have been helpful. Perhaps you have other methods you employ to open, continue or close your stories. We’d love to hear them.

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Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers In Residence, is the author of three novels in the historical saga A Petal In The Wind, as well as several short stories in anthologies including LAst Exit to Murder. She is currently completing the fourth book in the Petal series. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington (the big one). Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com 

Attempts To Get Off The Sofa

by Jill Amadio

Like most writers I have read dozens of how-to books, joined Sisters in Crime; Mystery Writers of America; the Authors Guild, and even ASJA – the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’ve been a panelist at conferences, given talks all over the place, and enjoyed writing for this blog and magazines.    

These days I have suffered from a lack of inspiration.

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 Previously I had deadlines that worked when I had a demanding publisher or if I was ghostwriting for a client. At present neither apply and I find myself with days, weeks even, of time to work on three books of my own that have been on the back burner.
 
They include a biography of a woman who pioneered aviation art in America; my third mystery, and a book about a terrorist event that was originally to be ghostwritten.
 
This last one is a true account of a teenager who was married in 1992 to a Middle Eastern college student who later became a terrorist. Divorced in 1994 she went on with her life. When she saw her ex-husband’s photograph on TV as one of the terrorists she contacted the authorities.
 
I interviewed her years ago in Oregon, made copies of her marriage certificate and divorce decree, and wrote a 40-page book proposal. I was quickly signed up with a top-five New York literary agent. However, no publisher was willing to touch it back then and a few months later, at the age of 31 and just before I was due to meet with her again, the young woman died in a suspicious car accident reminiscent of the Karen Silkwood story.
 
Last year, before moving to Connecticut, I emptied my storage unit and found the two bins of research I’d collected containing recordings of the girl, her mother, sister, and brother who knew the terrorist husband. Mindful of the fate she suffered I decided to fictionalize the book.  I’d signed a contract with her mother giving me all rights, registered the book proposal with the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress, and went to work. So far I have nine chapters.
 
The decision to go forward with this project was easy. The implementation almost impossible. I just haven’t been able to get myself to work on it further for the past few months, perhaps because of the overwhelming amount of research I had gathered.
 
My research includes several books on the event and I have great quotes from the young woman and the family. I visited locations and took photos, and had lunch in the same restaurants her ex-husband had taken her to where they met up with  “friends.”
 
The bins are brimming with marvelous, usable material. I was pumped and eagerly dove into writing. I became so engrossed I made dozens of cups of tea and left them in the kitchen forgetting they were there. The agent lost interest because the subject was no longer alive to promote the book. I stored the names of the detectives who investigated her death; transcriptions; the coroner’s report; the death certificate, and her obituary. So I went on to other projects.
 
Now, I want to complete it. But guess what?   
 
I can’t get myself to open the document. I’ve thankfully avoided writer’s block for decades and I have come the conclusion that I am simply lazy. This condition is exacerbated by the virus causing enforced isolation more than usual, and my discovery of the wonders of Netflix.  Or maybe the 123 files staring me in the face are too intimidating.
 
I remember reading how John Updike solved his lack of excitement for a story when he lived here in Connecticut, incidentally. In his den he set up three typewriters on which he was typing three different stories, During a day he walked from one to another when he ran out of ideas for one novel and moved on to the next for a while.
 
What to do? After a stern argument with myself last week which got me nowhere I reached out to friends for a solution and received some excellent advice. 
 
Peggy Ehrhart who is on her eighth mystery in her knitting series, had a suggestion. She told me to start at the front of a bin, pull out the first file and insert whatever material was in that file into the appropriates chapters.  And so on. Great idea.
 
Sandy Giedeman, a well-published award-winning poet who often edits my books offered more advice. I told her one of my favorite guides was “Writing Down the Bones,” by Natalie Goldberg. Sandy told me to re-read it and start putting flesh on the skeleton I had already created in the synopsis that included a sentence or two for each of the chapters. That helped. I had a terrific, ready-made skeleton for the entire book in the book proposal I had shelved years earlier. (It is one reason I am a fanatic for flash drives and printing out hard copies of precious writings)
 
A third friend said I should listen to uplifting music. I dug out my favorite CDs and heard the Mamas and Pappas singing “California Dreamin’” Well, that was a little sad as I was no longer in California and had a hankering to be back there. I also listened to ABBA, again a bit of a mistake since instead of writing anything I sat on the sofa and daydreamed about my life when the band was famous many years ago.
 
I also played “The Standing Stones of Callanish,” Celtic music composed about an ancient site in Cornwall but then I remembered I had bought that disc to put me in the mood for my Cornishwoman mysteries. I replaced it with “Puccini Without Words,” which is quite lovely but again, maudlin in parts because operas are so melodramatic. Nevertheless, all three suggestions helped and I am now happily engaged in methodically sorting through the first bin of files.
 
It is so easy to waste time instead of sitting down and writing. Such a strange paradox as we all share the passion and when inspiration smacks us on the jaw it is thrilling to get our ideas onto the electronic page – and just as disappointing when we don’t or can’t.
 
I’m sure most writers have their own solutions, even quirky ones, and someone has probably written a book about them. I still like Goldberg’s book not only because I write mysteries and love its title, “Writing Down the Bones,” but also for its content.
 
My current plan is to finish the first draft of the story by May 15, self-publish, and see how it goes. 

 

Photo by Inside Weather on Unsplash

Sitting in the Rest Area Thoughts

RestareasignAnother “on the writing road again” post. Indeed, I’m finding my writing journey endless—though a most enjoyable discovery adventure—with my posts here at Writers in Residence, metaphorical rest stops[i], and my actual books, destination arrivals in places I’ve never been.[ii]

Looking back, I think my journey started with scenery, North Bend, WA, and now it’s the Mojave Desert and Route 66. And I’m thinking many would agree, questioningmanthat setting/scenery is the initiating spark for many a tale. Often being the impetus for the plot—or at the very least, the enabling/hindering plot action backdrop. I’ve spent a lot of time these last few years pondering over how to enhance my writing in those areas.

But now, with the arrival of 2021, when I think about the books, DVDs, and TV  I enjoy most, it’s the ones with great characters that have brought me the most enjoyment. Fotosearch_k8817762To mention a few, Agatha Christie (Poirot and Marple,) Neil Richards and Matthew Costello’s Cherringham audio series, Midsomer Murders(my all time favorite,) Justified, The Good Wife, Marilyn Meredith’s[iii] Tempe Crabtree and Gordon Butler, Craig Johnson’s Longmire, Simon Brett’s Charles Paris, Patricia Gligor’s Malone and Morgan—and not to sound like a publicist for Writers in Residence(smile), love Johnny Casino and the Harlow brothers.

There are many more… Good plots, enjoyable get-away settings—but most of all, it’s the Characters. And it’s not just the protagonist, but most importantly, all the story and backstory characters that bring a richness to the tales.

More particularly, is it their niceness? Their eccentricities? Do they remind me of people I’ve known? Is it because they make me smile and reminisce? Not sure, but my next writing travel-leg starting now at this rest stop—is to make my characters the best they can be.

How?   GroupOfPeopleThere are a lot of us characters out there! https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/

So far on my writing journey, if asked, I think I would say “they just popped up” in my head. But I’m pretty sure the “just popping up” is based on many things—like past experiences, people I’ve met, people I liked, and people I wasn’t that fond of! Whatever that process is, I want better control over it.

Not sure I can add to what my fellow Writers in Residence have already quite helpfully said on this blog—but no matter what great advice one might get—I do know so much of writing is “personal.” I.e., you have to figure out how it helps you—by and for yourself. Sigh. It’s not math, you can’t just add up the column of great advice, come up with a sum, and you’re done.

I want my books to be populated with Midsomer Murders characters! I want my characters to be people a reader enjoys hearing from, and wouldn’t mind knowing and appreciate—well maybe not the murderers! (Smile) And I definitely think this is an important part of writing to think about… I’ve closed many a book, and turned off many a show because either I didn’t like the characters—or in some cases, actively disliked them.

So, on the road again…and hopefully something for you to think about. Not just from the “doing” perspective, but also from the experiencing side. Why did I dislike that TV show kind of thing. All thoughts welcome!

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Happy Writing Trails!


[i] In younger days, on the road with hubby and pups, would sometimes find myself waiting, and would avail the time taking in, and talking to some of our fellow travelers. I wonder if some of those people stuck in the brain and psyche??

[ii] Not as many “destinations” as I planned at this point. I thought 20 books, ha! Only nine…  Author and friend Marilyn Meredith is my guiding light and star when it comes to “getting it done!”

[iii] As it happens, Marilyn has a recent post up about her characters. She even mentions Tempe Crabtree! https://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com/2021/02/mystery-author-marilyn-meredith-on.html

Here’s my latest group of characters (smile) Just out…https://www.amazon.com/Rhodes-Never-Forgotten-M-Gornell/dp/1943063605/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1613418531&sr=8-1

 

Challenge Yourself to Read 100 Books THIS Year!

Yep, 100 books!  That’s what I read in 2020 and I hope to duplicate in 2021. I have a few secrets and methods I’ll share.  One of the best helps I can suggest if you want to give it a try, is to join a Reading Challenge on Facebook. There are many out there, and I’ve joined three for this year. They keep you inspired, and they help you with choices.

Reading in the Dryer. a51880cb8ed871ed003cd9eab01b33ff The 52 Book Club (formerly, The 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge)

I found this one last year in February, and had fun reading in the 52 prompts that founder Liz Mannegren listed, and then posting the titles (and covers, if you wish) on the Facebook page .  For instance, which books would YOU read in such categories as; #3 – By an Indigenous Author? or #6 – Written in the 1970’s?  or #40 – Used on the Mensa reading list for grades 9-12?  or #48 – A Character who wears glasses?

For those prompts, I chose Whitefly, by Abdelilah Hamdouchi, Kindred, by Octavia Butler (recently deceased), Nine Taylors by Dorothy Sayers, and Andi Unexpected by Amanda Flower, respectively.  All excellent books, the first two I wouldn’t have read if not for the challenge. So glad I did.

Two very difficult ones for me to find and read were: #50 An Author You Previously Disliked, and #51 A Genre You don’t care for.  I chose a 30-page children’s book by James Patterson (the shortest I could find), and a sports book that turned out to be excellent, The Boys in A Boat by Daniel James Brown. (Think  Chariots of Fire.)

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Among this year’s 52 prompts are:  #3 – A dual timeline, #17 – A character on the run, #19 – Book with a Deckled edge (Huh??), #24 – A book you think they should read in schools, #27 – First chapter ends on an “odd” page (harder to find than you think!), #35 – Set in a Country that starts with the Letter “S,” and #48 – A cover with a woman facing away.

Fun, huh? I bet you thought of books YOU would choose just like that!

A few difficult prompts for me to settle on this year are; #14 – Written by an author over 65 when first published (I hope to get the guy I chose as a WinR Guest later in the year!), #15 – A book mentioned in another book, #18 – An author with a 9-letter last name, #31 – Shares a similar title to another book, and #49 – A flavor in the title. (I chose Naomi Hirahara’s Strawberry Yellow.)  By the way, I chose another of Naomi’s books, Clark and Davidson (to be released in August) for the #26 prompt – An author of color.

One more prompt that everyone on the Facebook group found difficult was #8 – A book in the 900’s of the Dewey Decimal System.  Yikes!  After several librarians commented about geography, history, and biography, I eventually chose the biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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Liz Mannegren announced this year’s new prompts (categories) on November 30, 2020, and wow, did the group go crazy!  Suggestions and questions flew back and forth. By mid-December, most everyone had settled on the books they wanted to read.  BUT… now was the hard part. Reading was not supposed to commence until January 1st.

So…hard…to…wait.

Liz solved the “terrible itch to read” problem with giving the group a Mini-Challenge just for December. Three books with the Prompts: books about or with these words in the title – Light, Holiday, and Snow.  Pretty easy to find. I used a couple short stories (Jacqueline Vick’s The Christmas-s-s Party for one, and two beautiful Children’s books, which I then gave as Christmas presents.)

The Mini-Challenge prompts for February (she does this every other month for speed readers) are: A book with a red spine, a book related to the word “magical” and a book with a great platonic relationship (can be with a favorite pet). I’ve gotten three books picked out, whether I’ll get to reading them this month, I’m not sure. (They can be extra reading, or books in the current 52-book challenge.)

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Okay, I’ve hinted at a “method” or “secret” I use to read 100 books.  I simply read some of the prompts in Children’s or Middle-grade books (which I enjoy anyway, and which usually end up as gifts or put into my Little Free Library).  They are usually shorter and take less time to read.  Also, in this “secret” is that I occasionally read short stories. (Confession: the challenge likes the books to be 100+ pages, but I don’t always do that. See bottom of next paragraph.)

Here’s something else I did. I found a book for last year’s #18 prompt – A book written by Stephen King (not going to read!) by Googling other authors by that name and finding a delightful Children’s book by “Stephen Michael King.”  Cheating? Nope. Over and over, you hear “It’s YOUR challenge, so YOUR choice” when people ask if they can use a certain book for a category.

And… another cool thing that’s done is that parents and children are doing the challenge as well. Older kids read in their age books while a parent reads in theirs. Or, busy moms of little ones do the challenge by reading children’s books in each prompt ALOUD to their kids.

One note: The 52 Book Club is a private group (to keep out spammers and such) but anyone can join at any time.  Here’s the link to join.  You can find the list of prompts, and even suggestions for each one.

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  1. The 2021 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.

This one is easy, and you can use books you read in other Challenges.  Simply read a book with the first main word of the BOOK TITLE (OR do it with the Author’s LAST NAME) for every letter in the alphabet. They discount the prefixes “A” or The” etc.  The letters “Q  X and Z can be found anywhere in the title (or name).  It’s a public group, anyone can join at any time. There are three moderators who keep a lookout for off color posts.

Founder, Lori Boness Casswell also suggests a one-book Mini-Challenge each month. For January it was, a book about or in the title: COLD. In February it is: LOVE.

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  1.  The Literary Escapes Reading Challenge.

Another easy one founded by Lori Casswell. You read books that are set in each of the 50 states. You can also do countries as well. And again, they can overlap with other challenges.

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So you see, by reading in these challenges (with my secrets & methods, and, okay, “cheats”), plus the ARCs I get for review, AND my books for pleasure, it is easy to read ONE HUNDRED books.  Don’t worry about “the time” just pick up a book and read.   And, if you review the books on Goodreads or Amazon, the authors will love you.

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Comics from Bookbub blog

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A Valentine to Writers

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

As a writer, a reader, and a watcher of television shows, I have seen my share of romance portrayed in various ways. If you have viewed any of the shows on the various Hallmark channels you might have an idea where part of this blog is going. Those shows, as nice as they are, both their mysteries and their romances, are all pretty much alike. Gal meets guy, they clash, they see some potential in each other, then something pops up that makes them each think this will never work, but during the last five minutes of every show the truth comes out, they really are meant for each other, they kiss. End of story.

Some books and shows, even on the Hallmark channels, do have a different view of life and love. I wish there was more variety, but I understand that some publishers and producers have a formula they wish their authors and screenwriters to follow. In the majority of them, usually in the romance genre or mystery/romance genre, the romance part might be sweet, but the outcome is preordained. But is all romance or even, dare I say it, love, so predictable? What about what happens in real life? In your life?

Since this blog is the first in a series entitled: Write What You Know… and Make Up the Rest, let me share a page from my own life. I have had many jobs where I learned things that ended up in my novels and short stories. One really nice thing that happened while working at a bank is the story I am going to tell you now.

One day while working at the bank I caught a glimpse of faded denim jeans and a pair of cowboy boots on some guy’s feet in my boss’s office. I looked through the opening and saw a nice looking guy chatting with her. The guy ended up working for me. His name was Richard. I was given two people to train at the same time. Both Richard and a woman. She needed her hand held through the entire process. My section dealt with stocks and bonds, purchase offers and mergers. This was the one place in the Trust Department of Lloyd’s Bank that could actually lose money (other than a bank robbery) if we didn’t get assets to the right place before a deadline. The lady who hired me said it was like spinning plates on poles. I would have to keep all those plates turning or the bank could lose millions. The gal I was trying to train ended up going to another department because she couldn’t spin all those plates.

Richard was a different story. I would give him a rough idea of what was needed and he did it. Never lost a dime. We even got a commendation from the bank when we saved them about $30,000 when a customer asked the impossible. We made it happen. Then I asked Richard over for dinner one night. We talked about movies we both liked and the books we had read. We started dating. But there was a problem. The bank had a policy that employees couldn’t date. Dilemma. Richard knew I was getting close to tenure. After ten years on the job, I would be eligible for a pension eventually. He offered to look for another job. He got one at a broker’s office making more money than he was making at the bank.

Then a job offer came my way. Our biggest client wanted someone to do basically what I had been doing at the bank. I would have taken it, but the bank had another “policy” that said employees at the bank and this investment firm wouldn’t steal each other’s employees. I mentioned to the lady who had wanted to hire me that this former employee of the bank would be a great alternative. Of course it was Richard and he got the job at nearly twice what I was making. Then one evening when he was visiting me at home he asked me to marry him.

Now you have to understand my situation. I was thirty-eight years old, five years older than he was. I had been on my own for a long time. I didn’t know if I was cut out for marriage. I told him that. He said he’d wait for me to make a decision. For nearly a year he kept asking me if I wanted to get married. I kept saying I was thinking about it. Then one day I was listening to music at home. Several were songs about love and I realized I had absolutely no reason NOT to marry him. I knew it was his laundry day. I drove down to Monterey Park where he lived and found his laundromat. Richard was kind of surprised to see me, but he kept pulling his clothes out of the dryer and folding them. Finally he looked up and casually asked me to marry him… and I said “Yes.” It took him a few seconds to realize what I had said.

Now we had to plan our wedding. Neither of us wanted anything fancy, but I did have a date in mind. I think it was mid-summer at the time, but I wanted to get married on New Year’s Eve because my parents had eloped on that day and I always thought it was so romantic. My parents had a regular wedding the following April. They just wanted to get married. If you’re wondering if they had to get married… No. My brother was born almost five years after their elopement.

So Richard and I made plans. We found a minister who would come to the little duplex apartment I had in Glendale on New Year’s Eve. My landlords would stand up for us. I called my parents to tell them the news and they insisted on coming out, so mom and dad drove from Memphis to Glendale that December. Dad gave me away, but true to my dad’s independent streak, he insisted on saying the he and my mother were doing the honors. My cats, Sylvester and Angel, were there as well. So were all my Christmas decorations and trees with all the Santas I had collected to that point. I think my collection totaled over a thousand at that time. It was crowded in that little apartment, but at eight o’clock on New Year’s Eve 1986, Richard J. Pool and I were married.

So many love stories you read or see in the movies, or any story with some romance in it, has that formula I mentioned at the beginning of this piece. But love isn’t a formula. There might be chemistry, but each is its own unique blend. In the case between Richard and me, we always got along. We liked the same things, laughed together often, went places together, and never really had an argument about anything. We were a team. I’d go to the hardware store with him, and bless his heart, he actually went to a fabric store with me… once. He knew my desire to write. That was actually the one thing that I thought might be a roadblock to us getting married, but he said he would make sure I had all the time I needed to write. The fact he was making twice what I made at the bank allowed me to retire early and continue my writing. He made that happen.

I use a character based pretty much on Richard in my Ginger Caulfield mysteries. Gin owns the detective agency and Fred, the name I gave to Ginger’s husband, does leg work for her when the opportunity arises. Fred works for an investment firm as his day job. (You see, I use stuff from real life in my work.) Fred will eventually join Ginger at the agency because Fred is very good at getting the job done, just like Richard was at the bank. Fred and Ginger work well together.

Richard and I were always a team, maybe like Nick and Nora Charles in The Thin Man series. We were equals. No angst, just respect and a sense of humor. I always like seeing that in books and movies and I hope to see more of that kind of love in the future. The gal doesn’t have to be better than the guy, they just use the strengths they each have together. You see, Richard and I really took our vows seriously: To love, honor, and cherish, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we both shall live… and beyond.

Happy Valentine’s Day my friends.

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An Interview with CeeCee James

[In a conversation with CeeCee, she made this statement, “It’s funny how each of my stories is an evolution in my own writing.”  It intrigued me, so I asked her to explain how that worked in her mind and her writing. She graciously agreed.]

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Hi, everyone. I’m CeeCee James, a cozy mystery writer. I have seven series out at the moment (that number kind of surprises me!) Each one has a slightly different flavor.

How did I write so many different series? It boils down to the fact that journeys are important to me. We’re all on one, right? I find people’s stories so fascinating. It’s why I used to love sitting in a coffee shop or at the mall and people watch. And what I see inspires me to write. I wish I could tell more!

I also draw on my own personal struggles, short-comings, and victories. I had a rocky childhood. I moved all the time, spent some time in foster care, and went to quite a few different schools. I think, more than anything, that fueled my desire to write as well. My characters are always based on fiction, but I like to think they’re relatable in what they go through. I usually only have a vague idea of who they are when I first start writing my characters, and as I write their story I see where they’re going to lead me.

So far my characters have taken me on quite the adventure! Angel Lake Mysteries was my first cozy mystery series and centers around new beginnings. Elise Pepper learns a lot about herself—how to be independent and confident—and it was an apt journey for me at the time.

After that, I explored the curiosities of hotel life with my Oceanside Hotel Mysteries. Maisie Swenson and her mom crack me up. They have a fun relationship, and Maisie is a smart woman.

From there, I moved to my Baker Street Mysteries where I delved into melding American Revolutionary history with mystery with my darling tour guide, Georgie Tanner.

Cirque de Slay. good 516T4-PSPiLThe writing journey took a turn for me, and I wrote a short story Circus series,* starting with Cirque De Slay. Trixie was my evolutionary step into deeper thoughts as she overcame some serious insecurities. She’s a trooper. Is it weird to say she inspired me to be stronger as well?

This brought me to the Flamingo Realty Mysteries where Stella O’Neil navigates through some relationship complexities in her family. This series was also my first to merge with another one as the characters of Baker Street play a big part, and even Maisie Swenson and her Momma make an appearance in the last book.

From there I moved on to Chelsea in the Mooved to Murder series. This series also has the biggest funny side. I had a great time with Chelsea. A city girl, she’s roped into watching her friends’ pets, only to find out too late the exact nature of these pets. I laughed so hard during many of those scenes.

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Now I’m on my newest, The Secret Library Mysteries, beginning with the Tall Tails Secret Book Club. This book catches the flavor of the mysterious mansion and peculiar people back in Mind Your Manors, which I always wanted to return to and explore.

Phew! Now you know my writing road map and how ideas come to me. I’m not one to plan out my books, more of a “fly by the seat of my pants” writer rather than an outliner. I’ve tried to do outlines because I know how other authors have great success with them. Not for me. They’re the biggest road block. Now I just accept how my mind creates and go with it.

I love writing. I can’t imagine too many other careers that are as rewarding, and I feel blessed I’ve been able to realize a childhood dream to be able to share my stories with others. I appreciate everyone who reads them!

My favorite cozy mysteries always have a dash of humor, maybe a tinge of romance, animals, and tons of friendship. There are always a few of my favorite pups, and a kitten or two. I love the small town feel with a hint of juicy gossip and friendly relationships that comes with it. I also love good food and my characters love it too! That’s why a bunch of my mysteries include free recipes.

I have a few published in Large Print paperback and as audio books.

One of my favorite places to write is curled up this fat oversized chair I found on sale someplace, with a cup of coffee. Usually there are dogs sleeping by my feet, or in the chair with me where somehow, they double in size to hog up all the space. 🙂

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Writing has been a lifelong passion of mine. My first published work is nonfiction: Ghost No More; a True Story of Escape. Most of all I love writing about the celebration of life.

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CeeCee James is a USA Today bestselling author who first started this writing world as a kid and continued on with bedtime stories for her own kids. She has a few mystery series –the Baker Street Mysteries, Angel Lake Cozy Mysteries, Flamingo Realty, Oceanside Hotel mysteries and more! She loves creating new worlds and puzzling through cozy murder mysteries. Her favorite sleuths are curious, kind, and a bit flawed. But they all learn that being flawed isn’t being broken, and that’s a life lesson she works on for herself.

CeeCee’s web site

Facebook author page

This was posted for CeeCee James by Jackie Houchin

Where Do I Go From Here or Do I Blame Covid?

By Cynthia C. Naden  (writing as Claire Naden)

Small Cynthia Period Images #3As I sit at my computer and think back to 2014, I recall how devastating it was to me when I was forced into early retirement. But on the flip side, I looked forward to writing full time.

My first book, Cache in the Stacks, was loosely based on my personal experience of receiving a threatening phone call in the middle of the night. I used that as the premise for Cache, and my writing took off. When I discovered a historical twist that fit into my plot, I asked myself, “Why not write historical fiction?” which I love to read and always wanted to write.

I had an idea and began to develop my characters, settings, timeline, and plot twists. I wrote snippets starting in 2016 and revised my title but kept my characters and the basic premise intact. I wasn’t sure what subgenre it fell into, having started it as a historical romance, and it morphed into a murder mystery taking place during World War II.

In the meantime, I had an idea for a woman’s fiction that would start in my hometown of Pasadena, California, and move quickly to Kauai. Coincidentally, my husband and I planned a trip for our anniversary to Kauai, and I found the perfect opportunity to research my new novel. I gathered information and made contacts on the island, hoping that I would be able to have a book launch at a bookstore on the Garden Island in the future. I couldn’t believe how fast I wrote this book. It was published in December 2019.

I was happy to publish a book a year, but my historical fiction still sat with a few words written here and there. I knew where I wanted to go with it but didn’t know how to get there. To say I was stumped would be an understatement.

Then Covid hit, and my plans to launch my woman’s fiction were put on hold. Covid put me into a state of depression, and I lost my ambition to write. Thankfully, my critique group’s twice-monthly Zoom meetings kept me accountable. I started writing sequels to my first two books. But my historical sat in a holding pattern. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about it but I couldn’t put the “pedal to the metal” and take off with it.

I ask myself do I stay where I am where it’s comfy or move forward with my historical fiction? How can I pull myself up from the utter pits of despair I have felt for the past year?  I don’t think so. My word for 2021 is persevere, and this is what I plan to do: sit down, pull up my manuscript on the computer and write what I dearly love: stories set during World War II, which satisfy my desire to write historical mysteries. Covid may still be here, but I refuse to let it impede my writing. I will persevere!

More about Cynthia, her books, and a review of Cache Under the Stacks

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The Fun and Frustration of Ideas

 

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by Linda O. Johnston

Like many of you who may be reading this, I’m a writer. A fiction writer. That means what I write is rarely true, though of course it needs to be logical and, hopefully, enjoyable.

And how do I figure out what I’ll be writing? Well, my mind is always at work. Whether I’m intending to or not, I’m always coming up with ideas. That, too, probably sounds familiar to many of you.

While watching a TV show a couple of weeks ago, my mind glommed onto its theme as being a great idea for a story. A mystery? Probably. A series? Hopefully. 

But unlike many of my ideas, how to proceed with this one didn’t become automatically clear.  As a result, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering and research and jotting down possibilities. And reading what I can about the general concept.

That’s an important part of writing, of course. The plotting and writing and character development are all essential. But so’s figuring out how you will determine each of them and where your story’s likely to go.

I knew I was scheduled for the WinR blog today and, while at first not knowing what I’d write about, this blog idea finally came to me, too. It’s important for writers to recognize how their minds work at least some of the time. Ideas and me–well, I’d better make note of them and run with them when it makes sense. And writing here about coming up with and following up with ideas–why not?

 So how do you do it? Where do ideas come to you? How do they come to you? Is it always by a similar way, or, like me, do you just keep your mind open to whatever it wants to throw at you and then follow up on those ideas? 

And me? Well, I’m sure I’ll figure out the direction I want to go, probably soon. Will I run with it? Depends on whether I wind up liking my direction as much as the initial idea.

 

 

Artwork Design by Cher Schriefer(Groch)

 

THIS YEAR IT WILL BE DIFFERENT…

 

 by Rosemary Lord

   382e7-rosemary2bat2bburbank2blibrary2bjpg         Ah yes – that’s what so many of us are wishing for this coming year.

For Maeve Binchy fans, this was the title of her best-selling novel about festivities over Christmas and New Year, amidst a tumultuous family saga. The book has a happy ending, of course. And I think that’s what we all want from the happenings of the last nine months.

            The frustrating thing is that the challenges facing people all over the world were not of our choosing – or our fault. Unimaginable circumstances were thrust upon us. We did the best we could. In the beginning, somewhat stunned, we froze. We did as we were told. Because not only lives were at stake – but livelihoods, businesses and careers – and our sanity, due to the forced isolation of most of us.

          LadyWriting  As writers, we were luckier than many, because we are used to being isolated, to working on our own. But for others it was – and is – extremely difficult. But we are survivors and we became adaptable and very creative. Across the nation – and indeed across the world – we worked together and reached out to our neighbors, watched out for strangers and became concerned for those living alone. Especially the elderly. We became better people because of it – and appreciated each other all the more.

We acknowledged our great appreciation for all those Front Line workers, the store clerks, the delivery people, the drivers – all those that had to go out to work to keep our lives running. We learned to appreciate the little things and to count our blessings, remembering that many were far worse off than us.

            People became eager to support their local stores and restaurants by having goods and food delivered for the first time. They recognized how we each depend on each other and that together we could survive. “No man is an island,” wrote English poet John Donne in 1624. It still works well today. During both World Wars our parents and grandparents recalled that ‘everyone pulled together.’ They all looked out for each other and took ‘waifs and strays’ into their homes, as they fought a common enemy. Adversity usually brings people together. It also makes us stronger and more resilient.

            As Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

            For so many people last year, their lives changed forever, as they were forced to re-evaluate how they earned a living, after their usual work was shut down by local Governments. Some business owners were able to reinvent their small businesses, but many still struggle for survival.

            As writers, we are very blessed. We rely on ourselves to accomplish our work. No-one else can do it for us.  Yes, I know, we then have to get  literary agents to accept our books and stories, or publishers to produce them – and our readers to buy the finished product. But, think of it. Today, we now have so many news ways to accomplish all this ourselves. We can do it!

            Winston Churchill said: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

            Think of the changes in the writing world in the way our work is published, just in this past year. Our work doesn’t even have to be in printed paper form. Writers have found a new voice in Blogs, Vlogs, Podcasts and many other venues. For the printed books, more and more writers have turned to self-publishing, with the help of Amazon and other sales approaches. Once marginalized, self-publishing has become legitimized – mainstream even. 

Typewriter and desk           As writers, we have been stopped from doing our usual book-signings, our promotional events at bookstores, both local and across the country. With bookstores shut-down and in-person Book Festivals cancelled, due to the pandemic, we no longer had those resources as a way to meet our loyal readers, to introduce ourselves to new readers or to promote our books and garner new followers.

            We learned to be flexible and creative when we couldn’t get out to bookstores, launch our books, attend conferences, and travel across country to book festivals. We went online and explored Zoom rooms and Skype events. We explored, we joined forces with other writers and created different styles of conferences, workshops and writers’ groups.

As a result, we have widened our horizons considerably. Whereas before, we travelled to local bookstores, now we can reach out to readers and other writers, not just across America but across the world. We have quickly adjusted to different time-zones and we are exploring a variety of other writers and new readers across the Globe. How exciting is that?

            And having had our vacations cancelled by assorted Governments restrictions, our wanderlust has been channeled into armchair travelling.

I have read books by an array of writers new to me and had wonderful escapes in Crete, snowy Scotland, Mandalay, and Paris during World War II, the Greek Islands and India. I’ve visited far more places from my armchair without the struggle of today’s air travel – and it doesn’t cost anything.

            I’ve also learned a lot about growing grapes, spinning silk, constructing large houses, farming and how to make really good humus. What’s not to like?

We’ve all been reading a lot more – especially with people being shut-in, they have turned to reading books. Lots of them.

            Some people, forced to abandon their usual nine-to-five work, have turned their hands to writing for the first time ever. They told themselves, “If I only had time, I would write a book…” Well they have and they did. See. Out of adversity, good does come.

            And yes, this year it will be different. We are older, wiser and more appreciative of everything and everyone around us. Happy New Year!

Happy New Year. 11479ac38d18eab96733e0ba72dbdeff

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This page was written by Rosemary Lord and posted by G.B. Pool.