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.

 

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.

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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?

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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

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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

Metaphors by a Kingly Author

by Jackie Houchin

How many of you have ever read the Book (or parts of the book) of Ecclesiastes in the Bible? It’s in the Old Testament, right after Psalms and Proverbs (other excellent books to read!).

Ecclesiastes is written by King Soloman (the wise) toward the end of his life. He’s thinking back on all the “things” he has accumulated and accomplished. He calls them futile, useless, and vanity. It’s a bit depressing, however true.

Then in the last chapter he writes a fantastic – and rather gruesome – metaphor on aging, with a brilliant comment at the end. If you use metaphor in your writing, you will really appreciate it. If you are older and things about your body are “wearing out” (hearing, eyesight, energy, knees, memory) like me, you will maybe get a rueful kick out of it as well.

Here is King Solomon…

1Remember your Creator

in the days of your youth,

before the days of trouble come

and the years approach when you will say,

“I find no pleasure in them”—

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2before the sun and the light

and the moon and the stars grow dark,

and the clouds return after the rain;

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3when the keepers of the house tremble,

and the strong men stoop,

when the grinders cease because they are few,

and those looking through the windows grow dim;

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4when the doors to the street are closed

and the sound of grinding fades;

when people rise up at the sound of birds,

but all their songs grow faint;

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5when people are afraid of heights

and of dangers in the streets;

when the almond tree blossoms

and the grasshopper drags itself along

and desire no longer is stirred.

Then people go to their eternal home

and mourners go about the streets.

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6Remember Him—before the silver cord is severed,

and the golden bowl is broken;

before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,

and the wheel broken at the well,

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7and the dust returns to the ground it came from,

and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

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How many of those metaphors did you catch?  I know personally about the diming vision and fading hearing, and definitely the white “almond blossom” hair!  So far, my “grinders” are still in fair shape, but I know about energy lagging with that old grasshopper.

And then in conclusion the wise old king writes…

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12But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.

13That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. 14God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.

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How have you used metaphors recently in your writing?  Do you enjoy reading them when other writers use these methods…sparingly, of course?

**** If you want to learn more about Metaphors, Similes, Analogies, Allegories and Idioms to use in your writing, check out this article in  The Free Dictionary for explanations and samples of each.

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Photo by Matt Bennett on Unsplash

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.®.

Memoir: What it is/What it isn’t

By guest blogger, Alison Wearing

I think it’s so much easier to define memoir by what it’s not…Memoir is not a chronological recitation of a life. It’s not therapy. It’s not an accusation. It’s not a boast. It’s not fiction. It’s not gossip. Memoir is a search to understand the human condition—to tell a personal, resonating story. Memoir writers look back with empathy—toward themselves and toward others. They fabricate nothing on purpose. They know what to leave out. And they recognize—explicitly and implicitly—they are not the only ones in the room. Their readers matter, too.” 
Beth Kephart, author of Handling the Truth

It used to be that only famous people wrote about their lives: retired politicians, Hollywood personalities, rock stars. They wrote their memoirs; they still do. The aim of a person’s memoirs is to cover as much of a life as possible, to draft an overview that touches on all the essential points: family, education, relationships, influences, crucial turning points, successes, failures, accomplishments. Memoirs can also be called autobiographies.

More often than not, memoirs and autobiographies are structured chronologically, and generally, we are drawn to read them because the authors (or, in the case of ghostwritten autobiographies, the subjects) are people already familiar to us. There is absolutely nothing wrong with writing an autobiography, as long as your intended audience is your family or those close to you (unless you are famous, in which case your fans await your story!).

I once had a woman in one of my workshops who was creating a handwritten and hand-bound autobiography, complete with sketches of floor plans of the houses the family had lived in, paintings of significant buildings, black-and-white photographs. It was a magnificent creation and will be a priceless treasure for her family and future generations. Those of us in the workshop enjoyed paging through the volumes, admiring certain drawings and photographs, but the story itself didn’t invite or include us. It was a series of details that had relevance only to the people involved in the life described. For what it was, it was spectacular. I don’t want to detract from that approach and the author was very clear about what she was doing and for whom. The reason she joined my workshop was to learn how to write more personally, to delve into the realm of communicating emotion rather than simply the facts. I’m not sure she’ll choose to include that kind of writing in her book, but her family might treasure that intimacy if she does. Either way, this kind of a work isn’t a memoir. It’s an autobiography. It’s the whole kit and caboodle. It’s the wide-angle photo of a life.

An autobiography can be a beautiful endeavor, but it is markedly different from a memoir. For while an autobiography is the story of a life, a memoir is a story from a life.

A memoir may visit different parts and elements of a person’s life, but the intention is not to tell or describe the whole thing. It may deal with a period of time, a place, a relationship, a journey, or several of those things, but the story is delineated, it has a container far smaller than the span of the writer’s life. A memoir has a focus; ideally, it has a clear and narrow focus. And paradoxically, the narrower the focus, the greater the freedom the writer may have to talk about the breadth and fullness of her life. We’ll delve into that more deeply when we get into structure, but for now, let’s just cover the basics of the genre.

In addition to a clear focus, a memoir has, at its heart, a transformation of some kind, a shift in perspective or understanding, a new way of seeing one’s life, a place, a relationship, the world, whatever the theme of the story.

In this way, a memoir often chronicles an emotional journey of some kind, a departure from one aspect of oneself and an arrival at another (often more enlightened) state of being. The author might be trying to achieve resolution, to solve of a problem, or to achieve a higher understanding or acceptance of circumstances, events.

Or, as Mary Karr, author of the now-classic memoir The Liar’s Club, puts it: “In a great memoir, some aspect of the writer’s struggle for self often serves as the book’s organizing principle, and the narrator’s battle to become whole rages over the book’s trajectory.”

The “battle” Karr refers to may take a variety of forms, and it might not be a dramatic fist-fight-of-a-battle so much as a peaceful and gradual unfolding. It could be a recollection of travels written from a broader perspective than what was available at the time.

It could be a revisiting of a traumatic incident from a place of recovery or empathy. Whatever its focus, a memoir is more than just an honest account of an event or a time, more than a simple recounting of events, more than a detailed reportage of a journey from A to B.

It is an effort to make sense of—and perhaps make peace with—an aspect of the writer’s life.

It is an exterior and interior expedition, a quest for meaning.

“Memoir is not about you, or me. It’s about something universal. That is, if you want anyone else to read it.  Good memoir takes on something universal and uses you as the illustration of that larger idea.”                                                                                     ~ Marion Roach Smith, author of The Memoir Project

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Alison Wearing is a best-selling, multiple-award winning writer, playwright, and performer.

She is also the creator and facilitator of Memoir Writing Ink, an interactive online program that guides people through the process of transforming personal stories into memoir.

Do you have a personal story you wish to write?

Do you wonder how to craft your story to make it compelling reading for others? Or how to structure it so it holds together? Or how to write about difficult memories? Or how to write truthfully about something that happened decades ago? Or what to do if someone else remembers the same events differently, or if they don’t want you to write your story?

These questions can paralyze us, but that doesn’t need to be the case. In fact, those same questions can be the doorways to the finest iterations of your story.

If you’d like to learn more about her 12-week course, visit: Memoir Writing, Ink

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Alison also leads Memoir Writing Retreats – next up is in Tuscany, Italy in October 2022 and in April 2023.  Interested?  Tuscany Retreats

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Hey, I’ve Been There!!

by Jackie Houchin

Hi all. Are you ready for a tome? (I don’t mind if you skim this post!) If you hate reading about vacation itineraries, I hope you won’t cringe as you begin this. But it really IS about books & reading.

I’m bouncing off my fellow Writer in Residence friend, Gayle Bartos-Pool who wrote that wonderful post last week about how reading fired and inspired her own successful writing history. Her last words “Read On!” were terrific.

I am a prolific reader. I LOVE to read or listen to books. A while back, I wrote about The 52 Bookclub Reading Challenge that I’ve been in for three years now. Each of the 52 books must match a book category that the moderators come up with each year. So far, I’ve met the challenges. For this year I have but 14 of the 52 yet to read, and it’s just June. 52 bookclub page

However, I’ve read many, many other books in 2022. And when I say read, I include print books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Non-fiction, novels, inspirational books, study books, and children’s books fill in the gaps around my favorite genre – mystery.

So, when my husband and I went on a 23-day cruise in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, I decided to read a book set in every country we visited, including the ship itself, and a jet plane.  What fun!  I’ve read 13 and have about 6 left to read.

 I began this quest waiting at LAX for the flight that would take us to Portugal to meet our ship (with a stop in Montreal). I started with Agatha Christie’s DESTINATION UNKNOWN. (We knew where we were headed, but hey, you never know – as the protagonist in that book soon found out!)

We spent so little time in Lisbon, Portugal, that I haven’t considered a book set there, but I just recently came across 300 DAYS IN THE SUN by Deborah Lawrenson or A SMALL DEATH IN LISBON by Robert Wilson. Not sure I will get to them. They are a bit long. But who knows, maybe.

 As for that 4-hour stop in Montreal, I chose A DISAPPEARANCE AT THE BONNE NUIT HOTEL by Dominique Daoust, about a young female newspaper reporter who goes to Montreal in search of that “big story.”  It’s the first book of a trilogy.

(This is yet to be read.)

Our ship docked in five ports in Spain, with a stop at Gibraltar (a British Overseas Territory) after the first. I read Aaron Elkins, UNEASY RELATIONS, set in and on that famous rock. Wow, what fun to follow Gideon Oliver, the bone detective, up the cable car to the top for a really scary view, and then inside to St. Michael’s cave where stalactites come together to form of figure of an angel. There is a lecture hall beside it and Gideon spoke there!  It totally makes a difference reading a book when you have BEEN THERE!

 I read A FATALITY IN SPAIN by Blake Pierce, which is set in Barcelona (also in Pamplona). Oh, yes, I definitely remember that weird Antoni Gaudi modernistic church in town! And the dancing “giants” with the wooden heads!  Reading the story…I was there too, hearing, seeing, smelling. (Although we chose to wear a mask there because of the packed crowds in the streets.)

I am currently reading MISTAKENLY IN MALLORCA by Roderic Jeffries, an Inspector Alvarez mystery. It’s number one of 37! (And perhaps I’ll also read HOTEL MALLORCA; AN ELAINE PEARSON MYSTERY by Susan Linden Emde, if I finish the rest in good time.  It looks very interesting.

We also docked in Seville, Malaga and Cartagena, Spain, but I’ll maybe be happy with the two books I have already for that country.

By the way, I am also reviewing each book I read on my new and very simple WordPress blog – Words and Reviews blog.

 At Marseilles, France, we took a bus an hour inland to Avignon, France.  Since high school French classes, I’ve always dreamed of “dancing on the Bridge of Avignon” as the children’s song goes. Finally, after 50 years – I did it!   To remember that beautiful time in Provence, with everything lavender, I read, TO PROVENCE, WITH LOVE by T.A. Williams. More of a light romance than mystery, the protagonist is a writer and teacher, who came from England to write the biography of an elderly Hollywood film star. (Rosemary Lord, you would like this one!)

 ONE SUMMER IN MONTE CARLO by Jennifer Bohnet is a sort-of mystery and again a light romance, set in the Principality of Monaco.  It featured a lot of action and information about the F-1 Auto Racing circuit. While we were there, they indeed were setting up grandstands, pitstops, and pilon curve barriers for the race that would happen two weeks after we left.

 I was able to take my husband to Florence, Italy – a city I’d visited on my own three times before. Sadly, we were not able to go out into Tuscany for a visit to a vineyard and chateau. (Excursion cancelled.) But I was able to show him around one of my favorite cities, eat gelato, have spaghetti Bolognaise at my favorite café.  (Sigh) I’ve chosen A DEATH IN FLORENCE by Blake Pierce, or DREAMING OF FLORENCE by T.A. Williams.  I’ve read books by both of these authors (A Fatality, and To Provence), so I’m hoping for a different one.  Any Suggestions?

 I read AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS by Mario Giordano, while in Sicily, and we actually took a private taxi to Taormino because of that book. We didn’t have an excursion booked there, and, well, why not?  It only cost E100.00 for the 30-minute trip each way, and a patient driver while we toured the town for a couple hours.  It made the book more real, although we did NOT visit Palermo, where the “mob” lived in the book. Hahaha.

 I have yet to begin DEATH IN THE SILENT CITY by E.M. Ali, but I can’t wait.  I loved Malta from the moment we first docked.  And indeed, the old city has red-stone walls protecting houses in the narrow winding streets just like on the cover. We entered one of those bolted doors with our tour guide, and into a beautiful studio where he was restoring stained glass windows they’d found buried after World War II. I always thought Malta was a part of Italy, but it is a country on its own.

 We had only two “at sea” days between distant ports, so I read two cruise ship mysteries. VANISHING VACATIONERS by Hope Callaghan and PINEAPPLE CRUISE by Amy Vansant.

Both settings in staterooms, dining rooms, decks, lounges, pool, etc., were so very familiar as I roamed our ship – the Nautilus, er, I mean, Oceania’s Nautica.

 Ah, Greece! I finally got to visit the setting of my all-time favorite book by Mary Stewart – THIS ROUGH MAGIC.  It is set on the Isle of Corfu in the beautiful Aegean Sea.  A romantic-suspense mystery that I first read when I was about 13 or 14. I’m sure I’ve reread it a dozen or more times since. I love it.  And now, I’ve seen those lovely clear-water coves and sandy beaches, the castle-like homes way up on the steep mountainside, the winding dirt roads suitable only for a motorbike, the enchanting Corfu Town and the harbor. (sighhh)

I read A CRUISE TO DIE FOR by Charlotte & Aaron Elkins, an art-forgery mystery set on a fantastic mega-yacht, on Corfu, and in Athens.

It reminded me of that sleek, black super-sailing yacht, The Maltese Falcon, docked near our ship in Corfu harbor. Oh, my, what an uber-expensive 180-foot beauty!  Seriously, “Google” this super-yacht by name and you will be aghast!

 I just finished the most fun, interesting, and un-put-downable audio book that I have listened to in a long time. SACRED GAMES by Gary Corby is set in ancient Olympia, Greece in 460 BC. The still-active archeological dig that we visited and loved is portrayed so clearly in this book (the author must also have visited the old Olympic Games site) that I was sharing bits of it here and there with my husband. “Oh, yeah! I remember that!” he would say.  The book is a murder mystery that takes place during the games, and a young Athenian man is the investigator. He has 4 days to find the murderer before the Games end and his best friend is executed. The action, intrigue, fast pace, brutality of the sports, and the setting, well, it was like walking there in person again.

Have you ever done this?  I mean read your favorite genre set in the places you have visited, be they in another part of the world, or nearby?  It’s amazing. It makes reading so much richer. Can you think of a book right now that is set in the last place you vacationed or visited?  Think hard, then go buy or rent it and READ IT.

I can’t believe I actually found a book – another light romance – set in Croatia (and part of it actually in Split, where we visited)!  CLUELESS IN CROATIA by Joy Skye was a fun book, and the scenes in the harbor, in the city of Split, even a mention of the cruise ships there was fun.

After Croatia we cruised across the Aegean Sea to the East side of Italy for a 1-hour long trip into Ravenna to see the glorious mosaics there. It was an eyes and mouth open wide to see all that fine work. But alas, I’ve found no mystery/ romance books set in this smallish, inland city, or any with Italian mosaics. Do YOU know of any?

Our last port of call was again across the Aegean, in Koper, Slovenia. As I said, I haven’t found a book set in Slovenia  yet. It was a beautiful town as we strolled through it. We bought a wood craft that I hope my hubby can duplicate for gifts for Christmas. We ate gelato, sat by an unusual fountain that reminded me of a dandelion puff! And we strolled by the small sunshine-bathed beach. I bought a little cup at a souvenier shop with the LOVE emphasized in the country’s name sLOVEnia.

Neither have I founda mystery set in Trieste, Italy where we disembarked.  At Trieste when we got off the ship with our luggage, VERY early in the morning, the Nautica was surrounded in the water by shimmering, semi-transparent jelly fish!  It was amazing!

 I hope to read A GIRL FROM VENICE by Siobhan Daiko, or maybe Jennifer S. Alderson’s DEATH BY GONDOLA, or maybe even one of Donna Leon’s more recent Commissario Brunetti mysteries, set in the floating city. We were not able to visit Venice – I really cried about that – but itineraries change and we make do. We did bus to Venice from Trieste and fly out of the Marco Polo Airport to Heathrow on our way home.

 For the UK, I read Victoria Tait’s book two in her new Dotty Sayers antiques mysteries VALUED FOR MURDER set in the CotswoldsAnd I read another UK book since we had that glitch in the British Airways jet – did you hear about that?

An hour out from London to LAX, the plane abruptly turned around, dumped fuel, and hi-tailed it back to Heathrow. It seems the captain was very ill with extreme lower-abdominal pain (appendicitis?) and had to return. Back at Heathrow, we all waited patiently till the paramedics took him off the plane.

THEN – after hours and hours we were bussed to a hotel for a free over-night stay in London, free dinner and breakfast, and then back to Heathrow for another try at LAX the next morning. Because of the additional day in the UK, I read THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE COPPER CORPSE, a Flavia de Luce novella by Alan Bradley set in England.

And finally, I will read DEAR PASSENGER: WELCOME TO MY WACKY WORLD AS A FLIGHT ATTENDANT by Elizabeth Calwell. It’s a very short, humorous little book and will top off my vacation reading adventure.

Okay, this is a really long post I know, and if you skimmed or stopped reading a quarter of the way down, that’s fine.  But, tell me, have you ever done what I did? Not the cruise, but read books set in places you’ve traveled (either before or right after).  Did it make the books better? More fun to read? Can you do it this summer?

And let me know if you know of a mystery/adventure/light romance book set in Ravenna, Italy (or mosaics), Slovenia, or Trieste, Italy!

What Makes a Good Mystery Series for the Author and the Reader?

While Jackie Houchin is on vacation (in Spain or France now) we have another Guest Author. (Thank-you, Elaine!)  Jackie hopes to return with her next scheduled post of June 8, 2022. 

by Elaine L.  Orr

Like most writers, I put words on paper because if they don’t get out that way I risk screaming on a street corner. I get those words into print because I think others would enjoy them.

When readers like the characters, they may clamor for more. Even if they don’t initially, we think they will. I consider several things when I start a new mystery series.

  • Is the setting or main topic interesting enough to keep exploring? My first series (the now twelve-book Jolie Gentil series) is set at the Jersey shore because I love small, east coast beach towns.
  • Can I connect to the characters enough that readers can too? This doesn’t mean does an author like the characters. Some of the most relatable ones are the evil ones.
  • Is the life of the main character part of a profession or hobby that makes discovering a lot of big problems (or bodies) realistic? Jolie is a real estate appraiser and runs a food pantry, both things that bring her into contact with many people in varied settings.
  • Is there a plan to have the characters evolve over time? If lead characters have the same strength and foibles in every book, they become predictable. That sameness can lead to reader (and writer) boredom.
  • Is the plan to write a certain number of books, culminating in a big event or life transition? Or can stories continue as long as the author has ideas?

I’ve used the Jolie Gentil Series as the example, so I’ll do it one more time. I envisioned three books, with the third being called Justice for Scoobie, a childhood friend she reconnects with as an adult. Wrong. He’s the favorite character. Couldn’t bump him off and have Jolie solve that crime!

 

My primary hobby is researching family history, a natural one seeing that I like U.S. history and finding my families’ links to it. Why did I never make that an important focus of a series? Beats me. It is now.

The Family History Mystery Series has the fourth book underway. And that tells me something. My other two series (River’s Edge and Logland) have three books each. I may start fourth books, but why not jump into them immediately after the third?

Did I not think through the first four questions above? I did, and I have more ideas. What was missing? Passion. Hard to define, but it’s another key component of writing. You have to REALLY want those characters’ lives to continue if they appear in a series.

Have you noticed I didn’t use the word plot once in this piece? All good stories need more than a beginning, middle and end. They need a compelling story and conflict, which doesn’t necessarily mean action. In mysteries, there are a myriad of criteria. For example, if the villain pops up at the end with very little role or foreshadowing, reviews may not be kind.

As in all books, plot matters in a series. But the characters (and their evolution) matter most. Main and even ancillary characters need to contribute to the story and have a clear purpose.

Reader reactions matter, but they can’t determine how your characters develop. They can, however, inform what you do after book one. Take them seriously, but don’t make them your guide.

Finally, enjoy writing the series. If you don’t, the series could meet an untimely demise.

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Elaine L. Orr writes four mystery series, blogs, keeps in touch with lots of family and friends, and tromps cemeteries looking for long-dead ancestors.

To learn more, visit https://www.elaineorr.com.

 

 

It’s Never Too Late

A Guest post by P.A. De Voe

(posted by Jackie Houchin)

A few years after my retirement, my first novel, A Tangled Yarn, was published as part of a cozy mystery book-of-the-month series. I had found the opportunity to write for the series through a regional writer’s conference where I met a representative from the publishing company.

I tell you this for two reasons. First, it’s never too late to begin anew and reach for your dream. Second, dreams can come true if you’re proactive. I would never have published that first novel if I had stayed home and just dreamt about becoming a “real” author. I met the publisher’s representative because I had started attending conferences to learn more about the how and what of writing, and to meet agents and publishing companies’ representatives. Even though I am an introvert (a good many authors are), I really believe that joining writers’ groups and attending conferences are invaluable for building our skills, for learning about our business, and for networking.

Since that first book after “retiring,” I have gone on to publish a second cozy mystery, five historical mysteries, and a collection of historical short stories—with a sixth historical novel to be published this summer.

My historical stories are all set in Imperial China, specifically (at this point) in the late 1300s, the beginning of the Ming Dynasty. The first three—Hidden, Warned, and Trapped—is a young adult trilogy that I had been thinking about and working on for many years. My educational background is anthropology with an interest in Chinese culture and traditions. Of course, that was long before I retired from jobs that did not specifically involve much of this training.

So, when I decided to write historical Chinese mysteries, I needed—and still need—to do a lot of research on the time period. I read Chinese literature and whatever scholarly papers or books I can find dealing with Imperial China. I look at materials on the law, economics, religion, art, education, geography, medicine, local and family histories, and more. My research is broad because I never know what’s going to be useful for a story. Criminal case reports are, of course, important because they not only tell me about the why and how a case was handled, they also expose the tensions/stresses in the society at that time. Other areas also provide windows into the social, intellectual, and religious realities for people at that time in history, which are critical for forming believable, historically grounded characters and motivations.

  Also, research is needed to get a realistic picture of what’s happening at the local level, beyond the Emperor’s court. In my newest series, A Ming Dynasty Mystery (Deadly Relations and No Way to Die), I wanted to show life from both a male and female perspective. The male character, Shu-chang, was easy to develop. He’s an amalgamation of striving young men struggling to achieve social and economic success through the long-standing Chinese merit system which was based on an examination process. There are many, many examples of such young men.

The female character, however, was more difficult because I wanted her to be educated and to have freedom to act outside of her home. At the same time, she had to be realistic. I couldn’t simply give her a contemporary mindset in order to create an interesting story. After all, she lived in a period and culture with a different set of expectations for men and women. Fortunately, while reading broadly, I ran across an account of a learned woman who had trained as a professional women’s doctor under her own grandmother. I was able to use her as a model on which to build my character Xiang-hua. I now had a strong female protagonist that I felt was also true to her time and place.

Fortunately for me, I enjoy research, sifting through and collecting historical tidbits. I can easily get lost in the details. However, only a small fraction of what I find interesting can or should go into a story.

As we know, an author has to be judicious in what and how information is used. It has to support what is happening without overwhelming the reader. A story is not the place for an information dump! This is true whatever the genre, but in historical fiction it is particularly important to get the balance right.

The trick is to provide enough detail that readers can easily envision the characters and environment—which may be alien or exotic to them—without being boring or bringing the story to a standstill. Consistently meeting this challenge is a skill that takes practice, and a good reader or editor can be invaluable in helping to correct the balance if and when it goes astray.

Finally, let me add one more thing on beginning to write fiction later in life. I have heard authors say they are compelled to write their stories. That’s not me. I don’t feel compelled. After all, until I retired, I wrote only a little poetry and few short stories or novels. Mostly, I immersed myself in whatever current job I had and in my family life. Once retired, however, I went back to dreams largely laid aside and dusted them off. Writing cozies and, especially, historical mysteries provides constant new challenges for me. Each story gives me a goal to work toward. A new world to share with others. And that brings me true enjoyment.

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P.A. De Voe, an anthropologist and China specialist, writes contemporary mysteries and historical crime stories set in Ming Dynasty China. She’s a Silver Falchion award winner and twice a Silver Falchion award and an Agatha award finalist. Her short story, The Immortality Mushroom, was in the Anthony Award winning anthology Murder Under the Oaks edited by Art Taylor. She is a member of Sisters in Crime National, Tucson Sisters in Crime, the SinC Guppy Chapter, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, St. Louis Writer’s Guild, Saturday Writers, the Historical Novel Society, and Mystery Writers of America/MWA Midwest. Find her at padevoe.com. Her books can be found on Amazon.

A Thank-You Note That Led to Story

by Jackie Houchin

Do you like receiving a thank you note for some little thing you did (or even said)?  I recently received “three thank yous” via email (one was from my very well-trained, sweet granddaughter for a gift I sent).

It used to be something we would pound into our kids’s heads when they got birthday or Christmas gifts. “Write Aunt Dottie a thank you!”  “Tell grandma you loved her gift!” 

One boy at church ALWAYS wrote such sweet notes to me as his Sunday School or AWANA teacher. They were well thought out, and even used “bigger words” than I expected. Many had little drawings of something I might have given him. I would tell his mom that she sure trained him well, but she told me, “Oh, that’s his idea. I don’t say anything.”  Sadly he’s graduated out of my class now.  I miss his notes and illustrations.  (Yes, I’ve saved them.)

I enjoy writing thank you notes as well. I’m always surprised when someone I sent a card to exclaims “Oh, what a wonderful surprise! That was so nice of you!” Sometimes I send an email, and very occassionally a quick text message. But I enjoy writing out my thoughts on real-life cards. And since my granddaughter now has a little business* making greeting cards, I get to use all kinds of them. She’s the artist and designer.

I also write birthday and holiday cards . Dear Kerry!  Don’t make so many cute ones I just HAVE to buy and use!!

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Recently there was an article in our newspaper, The Epoch Times, January 26, 2022, titled “The Importance of Thank-You Notes”. I loved the sentiments and agreed with what was written.

This morning, February 25, 2022, there was a response in the form of letter in The Readers’ Turn section.  It is a wonderful story of one particular thank you.  Here it is (I hope it’s clear enough to read.)

As we here at The Writers In Residence are always encouraging our readers to WRITE, have any of you recently received something in the mail – snail, email, or text – that you could turn into a short story, essay, blog post, or even a poem? Ok, yes, even a utility bill that came. (Have you seen how Natural Gas prices have skyrocketed?? You could write a letter to the editor, or the company!! Haha.)

But I had something else in mind. Something creative. I recently got a snail mail letter from my sister who will be 89 next month. She is super spry physically and mentaly. She is now taking a writing class, and had to write a small piece from each of 30 prompts. She did it, and now she says her local newspaper wants to publish a few of them. Wow! Who knew? MY sister!!!

So… a thank you note that caught your attention, a birthday card, a GALentine’s Day card (yes, my granddaughter makes those!) or perhaps a mailing from a charity with a photo of a needy child, a disaster, or a pet who needs a home might spark a thought. Maybe even a gardening catalogue with seeds from an old variety of flowers that your grandma grew might inspire you to write a mini-memoir.

Go look through your mail. If you’ve got an idea now, let us know below. If it turns out nice, I might consider posting it in one of our GUEST BLOG spots this year. Just go do it! Write!

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*PacificPeachDesigns.com

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