Welcome Cozy Mystery Writer Hannah Dennison from the UK!

 Today, we are introducing one of our two NEW members – Hannah Dennison. Several of us have known her for quite a while, so it’s a treat to have her join us.

Welcome to The Writers in Residence, Hannah!

Q: We know you live on the other side of the world from most of us, so tell us just where DO you live now. What’s your house like?  And what’s the weather like there right now?

HANNAH: “I live in a tiny hamlet called East Leigh which is about three miles from the ancient market town of Totnes  I’ve included a link here in case anyone is interested. It’s such a beautiful part of the UK. I feel very fortunate and of course, I am close to my family here too. I live in a small barn conversion on what would have been a working farm fifty years ago. As I type this – the sun is shining and it’s cold. We’ve had torrential rain however and many of the fields are still water-logged which reminds me, my Wellies are leaking.”

Q: From your website/blog bio we learn you were born in a little village called Old Basing in Hampshire, England. Its claim to fame was the siege of Old Basing House during the “very bloody” English Civil War.

HANNAH: “Yes. as children, my sister and I used to play among the ruins and in the secret tunnels. I dreamed of musketeers and knights in shining armor and I’m quite sure it was there that I first discovered a passion for telling stories. My mother said I told fibs but I just liked to embellish my version of events because they seemed more interesting.”

Q: Ah, fibs and embellishments – the makings of a good fiction writing!  Okay, let’s get personal. What is your favorite chocolate! You do like chocolate, right?

HANNAH: “Not like, LOVE. Slabs of Bourneville and tubes of Smarties – those are my favorites.”

Q: What about coffee? Fave brew or style?

HANNAH: “I have a Keurig machine with k-cups. I’m a dark French Roast fan.”

Q: We know you have a daughter, is she a writer too?

HANNAH: “She’s not a writer but she’s got a very sharp eye and often proofs my newsletters. Sarah is a buyer for house and homeware and before Covid-19, traveled all over the world. I’m very proud of her.”

Q: Vizslas? What are these, and tell us about yours? Pets or Protection?

HANNAH: “Ah … the Hungarian Vizslas. Vizlsa, is the Hungarian word for ‘pointer.’ They make excellent alarm dogs but they are also very affectionate and are nicknamed “Velcro Dogs.” They must be touching you at all times which can often be a challenge when you want to take a shower.

Q: They are beautiful! Writers love to read, so who are your favorite fiction authors?

HANNAH: “So many! It depends on my mood. Barbara Pym, Agatha Christie (of course), Dodie Smith, Carolyn Hart, Jilly Cooper, Barbara Erskine, Jane Austen, the Brontës, Dennis Lehane, Frederick Forsythe, Ken Follett., Samantha Ford. You did ask.

Q: Yes, I did. Great choices! If you could travel to any place around the world right now, where would it be?

HANNAH: “Africa. 100%. In another lifetime I worked for Coca-Cola Africa on the company jet (I was a flight attendant). I traveled all over the continent. It was magical.”

Q: Do you still teach UCLA Workshops?  If someone wanted to attend or apply, what would they do?

HANNAH: “I do but I won’t be teaching until next Fall since I am feverishly writing the tenth Honeychurch book. Here is the link for the amazing workshops on offer. https://www.uclaextension.edu/writers-studio  I know I would never have been published had I not taken classes there myself.”

Q: Have you ever considered writing a book on ‘how to write a mystery’? I know many would love to buy it.

HANNAH: “Well … it’s funny you should say that because I have thought about it. I’ve also thought about creating online writing workshops too. I think it’s finding the mental space to do it – life seems to get in the way of all my best intentions!”

Q: Besides a mystery writer with three cozy series published, you’ve had a LOT of amazing jobs and interests.  Here are a few. WOW!

  1. A disastrous stint in the British Royal Navy
  2. Avid supporter of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
  3. Cub reporter at a local weekly newspaper
  4. Secretary to a Formula One World Champion
  5. A job with a French antique dealer
  6. Flight attendant for private jet charters where you met Steven Spielberg
  7. A job with various film studios, reading scripts
  8. A job with an advertising agency in Los Angeles 
  9. Teacher of a mystery-writing Workshop at the UCLA Extension Writer’s Program

HANNAH: “Well … I think I stumbled into each one with no clear plan in mind at the time. The Navy was so embarrassing. I desperately wanted to travel and back in those days, Wrens (as they were called) didn’t go to sea. If I’d stuck it out, I might have been an Admiral by now – ha ha. Looking back, it all SOUNDS exciting but I was always in a state of panic. I was/am a single mum and so much of it was trying to make ends meet and survive. Little did I know that all these experiences would serve me perfectly as a mystery writer (or fictional murderess!)”

 And serve you they did!  The VICKY HILL MYSTERIES (6 books) are where you started.

Q: What should we know about Vicky?

HANNAH: “I love Vicky Hill. Of course, she is based on my experiences as an obituary writer for the local paper. Just like Vicky I was desperate for a front-page scoop … ANYTHING other than covering funerals and weddings. I was able to live out that fantasy on the page. It was also fun to incorporate some of the crazy British customs and traditions. Snail racing? Who knew!”

Q: What “family secret” does she have?

HANNAH: “Vicky’s parents are on the run. Her father is a famous silver thief known as The Fog. I must point out that neither of my parents ever broke the law (at least, if they did, I never knew).”

I love this aspect about her story. They don’t appear in most of the series, but I recently read TRAPPED, the Christmas Novelette from 2021, and was excited to meet them again!

Q: Is Gipping-on-Plym a real village? And if not, how did you come up with that name?

HANNAH: “Ah … what’s in a name. I agonized over that for weeks. I found the River Plym and then googled quirky place names in England and hey presto! Gipping-on-Plym was born.

Q: Who are the protagonists in your ISLAND SISTERS MYSTERIES? (2 books)

HANNAH: “The sisters are both in their mid-to-late thirties. Evie Mead, an amateur photographer, has just been widowed so her sister Margot Chandler, races to be by her side. Margot is a Hollywood producer and at the beginning of the series, she lives in Los Angeles (I know, I know … sound familiar?) They are both starting new chapters in their lives. Starting over seems to be a theme in many of my books.

Q: How did you come to set the series on this little island?

HANNAH: ”My sister Lesley introduced me to her friend Gill Knight who had worked as the HR manager on a tiny island called Tresco in the Isles of Scilly, an archipelago twenty-eight miles off the southwest tip of the Cornish coast. Gill said that those who came to work on the island were either hiding or running away from something or someone. I couldn’t think of a better place to set a mystery!”

Q: Wow, he really handed you that a perfect plot point! Will there be a third in the series?

HANNAH: “I am hoping there will be. I can’t leave the sisters hanging … Watch this space, as they say.”

Q: The HONEYCHURCH HALL MYSTERIES (9 books). What inspired you to begin this series?

HANNAH: “My mother.  Basically, when my dad passed away, Mum impulsively (and secretly) bought the wing of a country house. She was 72 at the time and my sister and I were horrified! The expense! The practicality of it all – it was on three floors, the roof was leaking, it was miles from anywhere but she was happy. It was her dream house. I’ve also always been interested in old buildings so this gave me an opportunity to highlight the fading glory of grand old country houses and the struggles to keep them afloat.

Q: Who are the two protagonists?

HANNAH: “Kat Stanford is the daughter (not based on me I may add, but my very practical daughter), and Iris who is definitely based on my mother – although Mum doesn’t write bodice-ripper romance books. I have to thank Rhys Bowen for that suggestion and it’s one that’s worked really well. The series also explores the intricacies of mother-daughter relationships.

Q: Very cool! And finally, I hear there is a sweet white donkey named Hannah who has a cameo in your new Christmas book, A KILLER CHRISTMAS. Do you want to tell us how that came about?

HANNAH: “Oh dearest little Hannah the donkey. My best friend sponsored Hannah for my Christmas gift last year. I loved watching Hannah on the webcam – it was my daily reward after I’d done my wordcount. Poor Hannah died a few weeks ago – so sad. Her best friend Drizzle was bereft so of course I now have Drizzle. Here is the link to The Donkey Sanctuary if you feel the urge to take a peek.

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Readers can purchase A KILLER CHRISTMAS AT HONEYCHURCH HALL as an e-book from Amazon right now.  Amazon Buy Link

Or they can order a PRINT copy from BLACKWELLS BOOKSTORE UK. Shipping is free. (I ordered a copy and it came within a week.)

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Hannah, we feel so fortunate to have you as a part of The Writers In Residence.  And we will be waiting eagerly for your first post on January 18th, 2023.

Q: Do you have a closing thought for our readers?

HANNAH: “I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that if you say, “Yes” to whatever life has to offer, no matter how daunting, the most extraordinary things really can and do happen. After all, they happened to me.”

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Readers: if you have anything else you are dying to ask Hannah, put it in the comments below. (If you don’t see “Reply” click once on the title, “Welcome Hannah Dennison” and it should come up.)

Reach Your Blog Readers – using Hashtags, Titles, & Images correctly!

A guest Post by Edie Melson

(Reprinted by permission – The Write Conversation, Monday, August 29, 2022.)

by Edie Melson @EdieMelson

A little teaching moment… 
 
With the chaos of social media, and the strict guidelines now in place with email, our digital connections have gotten more complicated. But one thing hasn’t change—the ability to be found through an organic search. 
 
This process begins when we know the basics of keywords and SEO. The post I wrote, How to Apply SEO to Your Blog – One Blogger’s Process, will help you get started.
 
Recently I’ve been working with several bloggers about ways to get more organic page views. Organic views happen when someone searches for a topic—either through a search in a search engine or by searching for a topical hashtag. Beyond keywords and SEO, titles and hashtags are critical to getting found. 
 
It may surprise you to learn that it is possible to be found. But as bloggers, we need to deliberately set ourselves us to be found in a topical search. So today we’re specifically looking at the use of hashtags when we share a post on social media, the titles we choose for posts, and the images we pair with them. 
 
Hashtags
There are two times when bloggers need to carefully choose hashtags for a post.
  1. When composing a click to tweet within the post.
  2. When sharing a social media update about a specific post.
Here are the things we need to remember when choosing hashtags.
  • Choose two. Occasionally it may make sense to use a third, and even more rarely use only one. But the majority of your updates (unless you’re on Instagram) should have two. 
  • Choose hashtags that are relevant and specific. I see more mistakes here than in any other use of hashtags. For example, if I was sharing a blog post about tips on how to deal writing rejection it might seem like a good thing to use rejection as a hashtag. The word rejection is not a good hashtag. The context of that hashtag is rejection—NOT writing rejection. It doesn’t help us get more views or likes because the people searching for rejection hashtags are primarily looking for relationship advice. Hashtags are a search tool and must stand alone in their context or they’re worthless.
  • If possible, hashtag words in the main message of the update. For example, if the word you want to hashtag is in the title, hashtag that instead of adding the word again unless it’s the first word. Avoid hashtagging the first word of a tweet.
Titles
Titles need to reflect the full topic of the post. This is not time to be clever or too generic. Here are three things to remember.
  • Your readers will evaluate your post’s content based on the title. When a title is misleading or even ambiguous, the reader can walk away feeling cheated.
  • The blog title must stand alone—with full context—when shared on social media. For example, if we go back to that imaginary post about how to deal with writing rejection. I’ve seen a lot of bloggers who would go with the title: Tips to Deal with Rejection. At first glance that seems like a pretty good title for someone who is reading a post on a writing site. But what about those doing a search in a search engine or reading the text in a social media update? For them it’s misleading and generic. A better title would be: Tips to Deal with Writing Rejection. What makes sense to a reader who has the full content of a blog is much different from what makes sense without visual clues and context.
  • The title should contain a phrase that someone would type into a search engine to find the content in your post. It’s not clever, but I can see many people typing How to deal with writing rejection, into a search engine. That’s the final piece of the puzzle and immediately moves your post up in a search engine search. 
Images
It may seem like images are less important when it comes to being found in an organic search, but when we know how to do certain things, an image can provide a huge boost in visibility. 
  • Images need to illustrate the main focus of the blog post. Let’s once again go back to the imaginary blog post, Tips to Deal with Writing Rejection. If we’re not careful about the image we choose, we can lead potential readers astray. For example, choosing the image below could send the wrong message if someone misses the word, writing, in the title. 
  • We all know that images aren’t searchable….Unless they are captioned….Unless the file name of the image contains a searchable keyword. Yep. By taking a few extra moments to compose a relevant caption and saving the image with a relevant file name instead of some generic title you can increase your organic search views. Let’s once again visit that imaginary blog post.
    • That image above has a file name that includes the word loneliness—this is what www.Pixabay.com lists as the title of this specific image. So this image is not only a poor choice, but with that file title it will reinforce the wrong type of results in an organic search. 
The bottom line is that the details matter. It’s important that we blog smart. By paying attention to the titles we choose, the hashtags we use, and the classification of images we can make a huge difference in the visibility of our posts. 
 
Now it’s your turn. What questions do you have about these details? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section below. 
 
Don’t forget to join the conversation!
Blessings,
Edie
 
TWEETABLE
 
 

Edie Melson is a woman of faith with ink-stained fingers observing life through the lens of her camera. No matter whether she’s talking to writers, entrepreneurs, or readers, her first advice is always “Find your voice, live your story.” As an author, blogger, and speaker she’s encouraged and challenged audiences across the country and around the world. Her numerous books reflect her passion to help others develop the strength of their God-given gifts and apply them to their lives. Connect with her on her website, through FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

 

The Most Fun Thing About Writing

By Linda O. Johnson

Hey, our blog is still here, and I couldn’t be more delighted. I was pondering what to write about now, and came up with what I hope is a fun topic: my thoughts about the most fun thing about writing.

Do I know yet? No! But I’ve gotten a lot of ideas. And I’ve been writing for a long time.

My thoughts? First, even if I set a story somewhere real, near me, the fun thing about it is figuring out what can be different, and what my protagonist can learn about it—and tell me! For one thing, since most of what I write are mysteries and romantic suspense, people can get hurt or even killed in those environments I find fairly safe in real life. So where’s a good place to murder someone where the mystery can be resolved well and quickly enough in a story? A real place? A fictional place?

Even more important is those characters, especially my protagonists. They’re not me, but they contain some of my characteristics. The character closest to me was in my first mystery series, the Kendra Ballantyne, Pet-Sitter Mysteries. Kendra was a lawyer who lived in the Hollywood Hills with her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Lexie. At the time I was writing about her, I was a practicing lawyer, and one of my Cavaliers was named Lexie. And yes, I live in the Hollywood Hills.

Other protagonists aren’t quite as close, but still had characteristics I like and admire. The spinoff series from Kendra was the Pet Rescue Mysteries, which of course contained dogs and other animals—and I was volunteering a lot at local rescue organizations when I wrote it. In my Barkery & Biscuits Mysteries, my protagonist owned a bakery for dog treats—and was owned by a dog named Biscuit. In my Superstition Mysteries, my protagonist owned a dog named Pluckie. And currently, in my Alaska Untamed Mysteries under my first pseudonym, Lark O. Jensen, the protagonist, a naturalist, introduces tourists to all sorts of wonderful Alaskan wildlife, including seals and bears and wolves—and yes, she brings her own dog Sasha along on her tour boats.

And in the Harlequin Romantic Suspense stories in the various series I create, yes, dogs are involved. All my stories do contain suspense, whether they’re mysteries or not, and even those I’m asked to write when I can’t always include dogs. And they contain at least a touch of romance, often more.

So… setting is fun. Characters are fun. Killing people vicariously, and not for real, of course,  can be fun. And creating romances can be fun.

Plus, various animals are fun. Dogs are fun.

Hey, for me, maybe the most fun thing about writing involves one of the most fun things in my life: dogs.

So what’s the most fun thing about writing for you?

Photo by Austin Kirk on Unsplash 

‘THE END’… Naah – not really…!   

                      By Rosemary Lord

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So, how d’you like our Blog’s new look?

We weren’t ready to call it a day! We just needed a change – a fresh view. And we have two new writers joining us in our blog sandbox: Hannah Dennison and Maggie King.  What fun. Just in time for the holidays.

The holidays… so soon?! As we gallop towards the year end, one tries not to panic, not to think of all the things one had intended to do, to complete. But never quite got there.  The short stories not written, the scattered memoir attempted, the unfinished novels. A half-finished website comes to my mind. Hmmm.

Perhaps, instead, stop for a moment to remember what we have accomplished. Fer starters –  we’ve all written our Blogs for this shared writers’ venture. Look back at the unforeseen distractions life gave us. All the positive, unexpected things we’ve done this year. The new people we have met or old acquaintances with whom we’ve re-connected. Those shared memories are often inspiration for the next tome we attempt.

I’ve done masses of research for different projects – that’s always my favorite. Made wonderful discoveries that set my mind charging down different avenues. I’ve done a quick script outline for a couple of new projects – even if they’re not yet completed. Well, at least I started.

Lots of de-cluttering, re-decorating, re-planting, re-designing was accomplished with new, fresh eyes. Another diversion prevalent this year was travel.  I think a lot of us, so relieved to be allowed out of our Covid-cages, have travelled far and wide. Therefore, we’ll forgive ourselves for that wonderful distraction and appreciate the terrific story ideas and new characters we have encountered along the way. Ideas and characters just waiting to be poured out onto the blank page.

I’ve been reading a lot, too. Especially on plane journeys. And, as the days get shorter, who doesn’t like to curl with a good book. (When I should have been finishing my writing!) I think my Kindle said 51 books this year! Although I have abandoned quite a few after a couple of chapters. And I have shelves of new REAL books!

I have re-read, for the umpteenth time, some of Rosamund Pilcher’s wonderful escapist novels. Her ‘Winter Solstice’ is especially timely. It’s about a group of strangers who find themselves stranded together in the snow over the Christmas holidays in Scotland.

But I’ve also been finding new, younger writers; lots of ‘finding-oneself’ novels set on far flung shores, many of them self-published, so they have a different voice, different settings and different styles. A different way of writing. It’s opened up my eyes to new options.

But I sometimes find myself getting frustrated at the endings. I like a satisfying ending. I want questions answered, problems solved and nuanced solutions to characters and relationships. But sometimes, in these new books, it’s as if the writer suddenly noticed their word-count and decided to jump to ‘The End.’

Hey! Not so quick! You can’t just hurry up and finish. That’s not fair!  

The intrepid old standby, ‘Who? What? When? Where? Why?’ seems to be missing a syllable or two. The journey we create on the written page needs to lead us in that direction, that ties up all the bits and pieces. Instead I find myself asking – “but what about so-and-so?” Or, “How did that come about – that was quick!”

I’ve been tempted to write my own version –  a new chapter of the book I’m reading, that really wraps up everything. And sometimes I have become so invested in characters, that I want to know more about them. Where did they go after that particular drama was solved. Again, my imagination has come up with intriguing storylines for the next episode in their lives.

I often get annoyed when film makers produce a copy-cat version of a classic movie. Well, a cheap, poor, knock-off, really. Why don’t they instead write and produce a sequel – or a prequel. That would be much more creative. Why don’t they use their imagination, instead of trying to duplicate someone else’s talent? Or why don’t they write a “What If…”? What if Romeo and Juliet had not died so young? Would they have lived happily ever after, with half a dozen children running around Verona? Would they have stayed together? What work or careers would they have pursued? That gets one thinking… 

Do you ever think of writing a new ending to someone else’s story? Or even a new beginning. That’s even more important. There are a couple of characters I’ve encountered recently, that I’m thinking of ‘borrowing’ and installing them in a totally different book.

As you can see, my mind is all over the place at the moment. My unfinished To Do list lurks just outside of my grasp, with my promises of “- soon…any minute now…”

But I’m inspired by our New-Look Blog page and by my fresh, yet seasoned,  eyes on my own writing, as we emerge from our Covid cocoon.

Refreshed. Re-energized. Ready for tomorrow.  Ready to write some more – and keep reading….

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(This blog entry was posted by Gayle Bartos-Pool for the wonderful Rosemary Lord. Thanks for dropping by.)

The Gift of Procrastination*

by Miko Johnston

* I wish I could take full credit for the title, but a google search uncovered it as the title of another blog post about graduate student life at McGill University in Montreal, Quebec Canada. Suffice it to say this refers to something completely different.

My attitude toward procrastination varies depending on if it’s helping or hindering my progress – as a writer, as a wife, as a friend, and a human being. Sometimes I chastise myself for what I perceive as laziness, or cowardly behavior. I rarely see it as praiseworthy. Nevertheless, I can say procrastination has made me a better writer.

My first book took over ten years to get published. I’d finished it long ago, at least in the “The End” way, but endless tinkering, at first over chapters, then scenes, then words, kept me from getting it into print. I finished my second book in that time. It turned out to be a fortuitous move.

When I finally got up the courage to query a publisher, I had not one, but two completed books in a series, to offer. This probably helped draw interest to my work. Naturally, finding the right match of writer and publisher helped as well, and I was fortunate enough to find myself in that situation.

My first book took eight years to write and my second book, four years. I half-bragged/half-joked that at this rate I’d get book three done in two years, and number four in one. And did I?

Of course not. Some unexpected delays occurred. Part of my writing method is to immerse myself in the time period, right next to my characters, and through research and logic balanced with creativity, I can turn out good scenes. When I can’t get immersed, it’s a problem, as when I tried to write about the suffering in Europe during the tragic “Turnip Winter” of WWI. Picture Ireland’s Potato Famine coupled with an abnormally cold winter in the middle of a war. Now imagine trying to put yourself in that mental state when you’re vacationing on a tropical island where, much to your surprise, you’ve been given luxury accommodations.

The biggest writing lapse I’ve taken so far has been between a promising start on my fourth book and writing the final chapter. An eighteen-month gap lingered between the last pre-pandemic chapter I’d written and when I returned to finish the story in early 2021.

During that time, between Covid and the socio-political turmoil we went through, I saw too many parallels between current events and what occurred a hundred years earlier, when the novel takes place. It seemed disingenuous to ignore, so when I returned to writing it I included many of those similarities into the story, then went back and rewrote the earlier chapters to delve deeper into the effects of a world-wide pandemic and political discord on the characters.

With book four completed, you’d think I’d take advantage of the momentum and begin the final book in my series. To paraphrase Humphrey Bogart’s Rick in “Casablanca,” you’d be misinformed. In the past I’ve taken the last two months of the year off from writing, as I tend to be very busy with holiday plans and travel. This year is no different. I am still working out how to finish the story I’d begun twenty years ago, which will prepare me for writing it after the new year, but should I instead dive in and “just write?” Am I procrastinating yet again? I suppose I am, but it may lead to a better finale. Time will tell.

Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers in Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies, including “LAst Exit to Murder” and the soon-to-be-released “Whidbey Landmarks”.

Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

 

Mind-numbing Numbers

by JILL AMADIO

What is it like to sell 10 million copies of your books? I found it mind-boggling until I recently watched the Jackie Collins documentary. She sold 500 million copies of her 32 novels. But, hold on, Barbara Cartland wrote 723 romances and sold over a billion of them.

I recently interviewed Jane Green, who wrote a chick lit book “for fun” and went on to pen 20 more romance novels. She’s the author who sold the 10 million copies, and every title was a New York Times bestseller. I guess the numbing numbers are all relative when you consider that many other writers’ sales are up in the stratosphere, too.

The way the book business is these days sudden fame and fortune can appear out of nowhere, even after you’ve given up hope.  J.K. Rowling wrote and self-published two books, one a Harry Potter, that went nowhere until a publisher picked it up from a bin in a secondhand bookstore as something to read on the train, as the story goes.

Fifty Shades by EL James, was also self-published as an eBook on an obscure Australian online blog site, The Writer’s Coffee Shop, until the novel was scooped up by traditional publisher Random House. The erotic novel subsequently sold 15.2 million copies. It is now a trilogy. Back in 2016 the original online publishers, two ladies, were fighting over royalties of the books in a Texas courthouse. It appears to be a tangled web as the plaintiff was a school teacher who claimed she was “done wrong” as Eliza would say, regarding her share of royalties. Which begs the question: why should the Coffee Shop blog owners receive royalties rather than a one-time fee?  My research failed to answer such questions, especially one on how Texas and the Coffee Shop, based in a Sydney suburb, became embroiled in a lawsuit in the U.S.  It sure sounds like a jolly interesting plot for a murder mystery.

Do I find it daunting to read about such sales? Do you? Should these figures encourage us to keep writing? Happily, I feel neither jealousy nor resentment. The more people are reading, the more they will buy books, although one is tempted to throw a few sex scenes into the mix.

Since moving to Connecticut and just an hour from New York City that throbs with best-selling authors, I feel inspired to keep going and in fact, I am resurrecting the Tosca mysteries between marketing the memoir I just published. It will be great to get back to creating a chilling murder after writing about aviation art.

There are book clubs galore here along the Eastern seaboard with Very Earnest Members, although I am still searching for one that discusses crime novels. Sisters In Crime Conneticut is a start.  I know there are some book clubs online but after two years locked up I am relishing attending meetings in person.

As for book sales, I think of the tortoise and the hare and I plod along, blessed by the fact that I am able to write as freely as I wish without worrying about numbers or having a publisher breathing down my neck. A local writer said his Big Five publisher made him change his POV twice, and another writer confessed she was forced to rewrite her ending to suit the Highly Important Editor. Thomas Wolfe is famous for arguing incessantly with his editor, Maxwell Perkins, about cutting his classic Look Homeward, Angel down to a reasonable word count from the 333,000 words Wolfe is said to have written, but it worked and the result was magnificent. It continues to sell today. As it should.

Your thoughts on the big bucks?

 

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Image by kalhh from Pixabay 

 

Weather…Or Not?

The extent to whether or not weather should influence a plot line, or impact a character’s actions, is a writing line of thought I’m currently pondering right now on my “writer’s road…” And why? Could it be my thoughts about how important setting is are still nagging at me?  Indeed, climate, which consequently influences what the characters and readers see. But how about what our characters do?

My personal example from my current WIP is—does Leiv proceed forward in the 100◦ weather he’s experiencing, or does he demand Glover take him back to Shiné, and not meet the Packston sisters? Does he instead (as I’m writing it), hurry into the house, and consequently really appreciates the ice tea being served and think. “Thank goodness,and what a nice lady for seeing how flinging hot I am…” Indeed, and this may sound nitpicky, but I’ve found myself fussing at a book I was reading that the character should have been motivated in a completely different direction by the weather! In my defense, I really want a reader to enjoy the story in a way that brings pleasure to them.

Having lived in both Washington States’overcast and rainy Puget Sound, and California’s moderate bay area: and having been born and raised in cold windy Chicago, and now living in and loving the sometimes blazing Mojave, I do accept for myself, “yes,” maybe I would have done some things differently if I’d paid attention to the weather. Hmm…

Bottom line on my current WIP from my meandering weather thoughts is, Leiv is going to do a completely different action than I first wrote (months ago.) And, his weather related changes will also change the ending. But I think for sure, his character is stronger and more admirable for the weather directed action he takes early on.

My thoughts have further led me to thinking back on my earlier books self-critique—such as my Pacific Northwest setting and California’s Ridgecrest area, and now out here in the Mojave…makes me think I personally need to enhance the aspect of Mojave weather affecting my heroes and villains on more levels and in more ways than before. And my queens of murder mystery(Ngaio, Agatha, etc.–who are always in my mind) don’t make a big deal about weather…or do they? I need to take a rereading deep dive(smile), or binge on DVDs and Brit Box! Research(smile)

All thoughts are welcome.

Also, this post is sooo short because it’s still hot, IN OCTOBER, and zapping my energy, ha, ha….

Happy Writing Trails

Endings: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by Jackie Houchin

There are many kinds of endings – your years in school or college, work (retirement), the last chemo session, the last crumbs in the cookie jar, cereal box, coffee canister, friendships and marriages, letters, books (reading or writing), payments on your home or car, a movie episode or series on TV, the ink in a favorite pen, a headache or toothache, a lovely vacation, a calendar, a blog.

Some endings you are grateful for, some leave you sorrowful, nostalgic, or simply inconvenienced. And with some, you are relieved and satisfied. You brush your hands together, stand up tall, and walk away. You’ll “think about it another day,” as Scarlett O’Hare so famously said.

**

Of course, this is a blog by and about writers, writing, publishing, marketing, and even for some (like me) reading and reviewing books.  Writers LOVE to type “The End” on a manuscript, be it a lengthy tome, a 3,000-word short story, or a 600-word review. There is a sense of accomplishment. And as writers, we hope those endings appeal to our readers and keep them coming back for more.  As readers, we want to be surprised, entertained, and yes, satisfied that the bad guy got caught, the mystery was solved, or the romance was sealed with a kiss and a ring.

Can you think of a book whose ending you absolutely loved for whatever reason? Mention it in the comments below.  Or one that was the worst ever – so bad that you threw the book across the room, or directly into the trash?

If you are a writer, how will you end the book (story, article, review) that you are working on right now?  Can you give us a hint?

**

A few of us here have discussed the demise of this blog at the end of 2022.  Oh, we still have some good posts lined up for you from us six “Writers In Residence” as well as a helpful guest blogger in November.

We would LOVE to hear your thoughts. Don’t just “massage our egos” but tell us outright how you feel. Would you miss reading this blog each Wednesday?  Or is it with a big sigh and resolute determination that you log on, once again?

If we vote for another year of The Writers in Residence, what topics would you like to see upcoming?  Are there guest bloggers you would love to hear from?  Is there someone you’d especially like for us to interview?  Would you enjoy some kind of quiz or giveaway (be specific!)?

Interests change, we know, and readers have less time to visit and perluse blogs. Maybe there are other venues that pique their interests or grab their attention. Is that you?  If so, please be honest.

What say ye? Please leave thoughts and suggestions in the comments section, or share them with any of us on Facebook.

The End

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

..

Let’s Talk about Dialogue

By Gayle Bartos-Pool

Aristotle That Aristotle guy was smart. He understood the basics in writing a story: Plot, Character, Dialogue, Setting, and the Meaning of the story. If the writer doesn’t address all those points… what’s the point of the story? Of course you have to have a Plot. Something’s got to happen. And without people or even a furry face, there is nobody to watch as they uncover those twists and turns. Without a Setting you have no place to wander through while the main characters are exploring that environment. And without a Meaning to the story the reader is going to wonder: Why am I here?

 

But what about Dialogue? That is the way each character tells the reader who they are and even sometimes explains what that environment looks like in personal terms. Remember, one character might see a desert as a wasteland while another might see it as a beautiful vista. That being said, dialog can be tricky. Ask an actor who has to interpret those words and make their character have personality and not be just another passenger on the bus. I learned this lesson when I took acting lessons back in California.

 

There was a time I thought I would write for the movies and television. Yeah, me and about ten million other people. In California, half the people you meet want to be actors, the other half want to write for the silver screen. I thought a good way to see what these actors needed from a screenwriter was to take acting lessons and learn firsthand. I actually learned a lot from the acting teachers I had.

 

The first teacher was actor Bruce Glover. What a character, and I say that with deep respect. He was in the movie Diamonds are Forever with Sean Connery. He played one half of the “killer” duo that wanted those diamonds and did whatever they could to retrieve them. The patter between Glover’s Mr. Wint and Puffer Smith’s Mr. Kidd was reminiscent of the old Vaudeville act featuring the song: “Absolutely, Mr. Gallagher. Positively, Mr. Shean” in the movie Ziegfeld Girl 1941.

Glover took that a step further and made sure his character had not only the delivery right, but he did a little bit of business so the camera picked up on his actions. Don’t they say: Actions speak louder than words?

typewriter-and-deskSo as a writer you need to give your character something to say that fits his or her character, but also have them do something that nails that character while they are speaking. Whether you are putting those words on the page to be read in a book or writing a scene for a movie, describe those characters with words unique to them and give them something unique to do. And I don’t mean just your main characters. Why have somebody show up on the page or in a scene who adds nothing to the story. If you don’t want to add a superfluous character, have someone literally send a telegram and then let an established character read it out loud. But remember, when they’re reading that message let them give it some personality… it’s either good news (slap your thigh)… or bad news (cringe)… or it’s a disaster (dive under the table!)

GroupOfPeople

EXAMPLE:

Ladies sitting around having tea and mentioning the great weather doesn’t move the story.

Ladies sitting around having tea, mentioning the weather and the latest fashion doesn’t move the story, either.

 

                        But how about this…

Ladies sitting around having tea, mentioning the weather, talking about the view, noticing the flower arrangements in the restaurant and the latest fashion being worn by other guests doesn’t move the story until one of the ladies finally says: “Let’s stop talking about nothing and talk about Sarah’s murder. Somebody killed her and we’re going to find out who did it.” Now that gets the ball rolling.

 

Let’s explore the last example. We can see/hear the ladies chatting. Each character’s view of her surroundings will tell us a little about that character whether one lady is envious of someone’s very expensive outfit or they notice the guy this other lady is with and they know he isn’t her husband. Meow!

 

Or how about the lady who thinks the prices on the menu are a tad too high and she reveals that her husband just lost his job.

 

Or maybe one lady doesn’t want to mention that the handsome guy coming in the door of the restaurant with the little floozy used to be her boyfriend, but one of the other women points it out in a catty remark.

 

But the gal who wants to get down to the important things like who killed their friend is setting the story off in another direction. And what if all the ladies are raring to go to solve the crime except one of their group who is hesitant. She doesn’t say much or maybe says nothing. Does she know more about this than she’s willing to admit? What if our main character picks up on that lack of comment and confronts her later? Or maybe somebody else confronts her and one of them turns up dead?

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What they say… or what they don’t say. That’s part of Dialogue. And their actions as well. Sometimes actions do speak louder than words. What if the quiet one excuses herself early from their tea and the next thing we hear is that one lady’s home was broken into and that someone just might have something to do with the death of poor Sarah?

 

Ah, Dialogue. That Aristotle, who was born in 384 B.C., knew of what he spoke. Words have consequences. And how they are delivered can even change their meaning. How about this: two versions of the exact same Dialogue.

 

First Version: A guy and a gal are on a date. He has been a little free with his affections with another lady and she knows about it, but she will forgive him.

He says, “I’m sorry I was such a fool, Gwen. It’ll never happen again. I’m crazy about you.”

She says, “I’m just mad about you, too, Harry,” she responded, touching his face lovingly, seeing the love in his eyes.

 

Compare it to this version:

He says, “I’m sorry I was such a fool, Gwen. It’ll never happen again. I’m crazy about you.” He says this while looking off in another direction.

She says, “I’m just mad about you, too, Harry,” she responded, grinding her cigarette into the plate of uneaten lobster.

 

Does Harry have a chance in version two? Probably not.

What a character says and how he says it and what he is doing while he is saying it tells a story.

 

So, as you write Dialogue always ask yourself:

                        Does it advance the story?

                        Does it enhance the story?

                        Is it redundant? Is it redundant?

 

Write On!

A Little Christmas “heads-up!”

(NOTE: This is a guest post by proxoy. Dianne Ascroft lives in Ireland, but this is her newest published story, reviewed by Jackie Houchin)

(Dianne Ascroft’s Cozy Mystery Short Story is part of the Deadly Traditions: A Cozy Mystery Christmas Anthology,  by Justine Maxwell  (Author), Gayle Leeson  (Author), 8 more  See the other stories and authors at the end of this review.)

Mistletoe and Murder revisits the small Canadian town of Fenwater, where Ascroft’s series protagonist, Lois lives – wooed there from the big city by her friend Marge, after her husband of many years died.  Lois is settling in quite well, meeting friends and neighbors, especially in the town Marketplace, where various crafters sell their ware. She now has a “sweetheart” as well.

But this story is mainly from the point-of-view of vivacious, Marge, plump and pretty, (and now also single).  At the town’s Christmas party, Marge can’t seem to avoid the hanging mistletoe, and the hard-to-get-rid-of ex-boyfriend, Mike, as he continues to grab her up in squishy bear hugs and slobbery smooches at every opportunity. She runs to her friend Lois (and Bruce) for help, but Mike follows her! Even with the appearance of a woman who just recently broke off with Mike, Marge can’t avoid the man.  It’s only after he’s gotten another spiked egg-nog and acts drunk… and then falls down dead, that she is free.  But oh, what a horrible solution!

Over the next few days, Marge frantically tries to find who slipped Mike that (—) that was the key to his death. Lois helps as she can, but mostly just supports her friend. It’s during a Christmas hayride a few nights later that the case comes to a head – Marge’s head – and the solution appears.

Dianne Ascroft’s stories are gentle and fun – cozies as they are described. It may be easier to discover the mystery before the end, but you never know. She might just give the story a tweak. I enjoyed Mistletoe and Murder, and if it is a sample of the others, I know you will enjoy them all.

The whole list:

Larceny and Gingerbread Lattes – Justine Maxwell

Killing the Carol – Sam Cheever

O Deadly Night – Estelle Richards

Silent Snickerdoodle – Ellie Ballard

Santa Claus Is Not Coming To Town – Sage So

Have Yourself a Scary Little Christmas – Gayle Leeson

A Pickle in a Pear Tree – Erin Scoggins

Mrs Claus Saves Christmas – Wendy H. Jones

A Christmas Dinner to Die For – Sheena Macleod

Christmas Card and Feathered – Mollie Cox Bryan

A Little Christmas Villainy – Melicity Pope

Mistletoe and Murder – Dianne Ascroft

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