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

1.08RoseSignCrop (1)

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….

                                    ……………………………………………………..

(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

 

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