After a tumultuous 2020 (Who saw that coming??), I’ve found writing has become easier – easier for me to escape what’s going on in the world and become immersed in my characters’ worlds.
I’ve also discovered that readers are looking for an escape these days, more so now than ever before. I hear it over and over in the emails that I get.
For those of you who have never heard of me, I’m a Christian cozy mystery writer, with several published series. Most feature a mature female character who has faced some life-altering event and been forced – or decided to – start over. As each series progresses, the characters develop strong and lasting friendships and relationships.
So…if you’re a seasoned writer or just beginning, I’ll share a few tips on how I have decided what to write and then once I start, how to find my happy place so that the words flow.
I love what I write. Back in 2015, my husband and I were brainstorming one day, tossing out ideas for a new series. We came up with the idea for me to write one about a woman who became assistant cruise director on board a mega passenger cruise ship since cruising was something that we both loved.
Not long after, I released “Starboard Secrets.” After writing the first book, I was hooked. I had so much fun joining Millie, my main character, on her cruise ship adventure. That series has continued for five years with book twenty releasing a couple weeks ago.
The joys of research. Researching about cruising makes me happy and when I’m happy, the ideas flow. What better way to write a cruise ship adventure than when I’m sitting on my private balcony gazing out at the vast ocean and breathing salty sea air?
I use my own experiences. Adding my own experiences helps make my stories more authentic. Readers are smart – they pick up on that and appreciate it.
I love cruising, but I also love visiting Savannah, Georgia. Thus, the idea for my “Made in Savannah” series, which is also popular with readers.
After the third or so visit to this great city, I decided that Savannah would be the perfect location for a new set of characters and adventures.
The main character, a mobster’s wife, promises her husband on his deathbed, to get their sons out of the “family.” After his death, she discovers a key in his pocket that leads her to a property he owned in historic Savannah, Georgia.
Keeping good on her promise, she moves from New York and starts over. It’s a bumpy journey and the lead character realizes escaping her past isn’t quite that easy. Readers love learning about this unique location, her commitment to her family and they are emotionally invested in her and her children’s success.
The latest release, “Christmas Family Style” is a fan favorite – and one of this writer’s favorites, as well. It has elements of things that I love…Savannah, Christmas, family. I’m already getting emails from readers, asking when the next book will release.
What’s new? I currently have three “WIP” – works in progress. Actually, they’re the first three books in a spinoff series for my first cozy mysteries, The Garden Girls, set in the fictitious town of Belhaven, Michigan.
So…if you happened to hop off here to take a peek at my author page, you know that I have several ongoing series…four to be exact. I have devoted, die-hard readers for each and am convinced they would hunt me down if I ended any of them.
How do I successfully keep them running, keep readers buying the books and turning the pages? I’ll share a couple of my tips with you:
Be mindful of “Cookie Cutters.” If you write a series, or plan to write a series, always remember that your readers have expectations. They want to pick up your book and know what they’re getting. That’s why they bought it, right? But there can be a fine line between meeting expectations and writing cookie cutter books. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase wash, rinse, repeat – but that can be misleading, because there is SO. MUCH. MORE.)
If you write the exact same (for example) mystery story over and over – and the only thing you change is the basic mystery, the names of the suspects and the “whodunnit,” you run the risk of cookie cutter burnout – for you as the writer as well as the reader. I believe that a series needs to progress…just like life. New characters are added while others fade away. Difficult circumstances arise – divorce, death, yet the main character prevails no matter what.
If your plan is to start a new and long series, spend some time thinking about it. Where do you want to start? Where do you want the series to go? How many books do you plan to write? How will you keep the series the same – to meet readers’ expectations, yet fresh, where they’re eagerly and anxiously waiting to find out what happens next?
Be original! A few years back, the hot, new cozies were all about donuts. There were donut shop settings everywhere. After a while, the covers and stories all looked and sounded the same. I couldn’t tell one from the other.
So, be original and your work will stand out.
I’ll end with this – a piece of advice I wish I’d had before writing my very first fiction story. Keep notes, notes and more notes.
I keep copious notes on each of my series…characters, descriptions, locations, a synopsis of every story. I even track the seasons. This helps me “jump right back in” when returning to a series, so I’m not totally overwhelmed or completely lost.
It also saves me from backtracking, spending valuable time poring over previous books to track down details that are important to the story, which takes me out of the moment and makes it harder to get the creative juices flowing again.
A lot of my readers re-read my series and they read straight through from one to the next, which means I need to be on my toes with the details. This is particularly important if you write long series.
We’ve certainly faced some challenging times this year. As I write, I keep reminding myself that those words mean something to readers…to my readers. I’m helping make the world a little brighter by bringing a smile to someone’s face or have touched their heart.
Perhaps it was a Bible verse I included that struck just the right chord and encouraged someone. (I have gotten emails from readers who have told me this and let me tell you, it never fails to give me chills that God is able to use me in such an incredible way.)
My last piece of advice is to find joy in your writing, because when you love what you write, your readers will, too.
If you would like to find out more about me or my books, you can find me at:
This blog post was posted for Hope Callighan by Photojaq (Jackie Houchin)