Two Murders in One Book: A Story-Within-a-Story

by V.M. (Valerie) Burns

Each book in my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series features a story-within-a-story. My protagonist, Samantha Washington and her late husband, Leon, dreamed of quitting their jobs and owning a mystery bookshop. When her husband dies, Samantha realizes life is too short not to follow your dreams. So, she quits her job, buys the building she and Leon always dreamed about, and opens a mystery bookshop. Owning a bookshop that specializes in mysteries was a dream Sam shared with her husband. However, she also had another dream. She dreamed of writing British historic cozy mysteries, which she does to fill her time after her husband’s death. Each book in the Mystery Bookshop mystery series includes two mysteries, the mystery that Sam is solving in her real life and the British historic cozy mystery that she’s writing.

People often ask, what inspired me to write a story-within-a-story. The truth is this series didn’t start out that way. When I first started to flesh out the idea for the series, my initial plan was that the only murders would take place in the book that my protagonist was writing. I didn’t plan on having Sam solve a murder in her personal life at all. This is where I got the title for the first book, THE PLOT IS MURDER. My theory was that it would be more realistic that way and I wouldn’t have dead bodies littering the streets of the small fictional town of North Harbor, Michigan. However, I wondered if mystery readers would be satisfied with that. Then, I had my eureka moment. What if, I had two mysteries? The protagonist would solve a mystery in her life AND there would also be a murder to solve in the book she was writing. As a mystery lover, I thought that would be a book I would want to read. As an author, I wondered, what was I thinking? It’s hard enough to write one mystery. How was I going to write two?

I tackled the task of writing two mysteries in every book the same way you eat an elephant—one bite at a time. When I started, I didn’t have an elaborate plan (or much of a plan at all). I knew I wanted parallels between my two storylines. My thought was that writing the British historic cozy would help my protagonist (Samantha) solve the mystery in her real life. So, if Sam was faced with a locked room mystery, then there would be a locked room mystery in the book she was writing. 

Another common question I get is whether I write the stories separately or simultaneously. For me personally, I write in sequence. I have friends who can write scenes out of order. However, I can’t do that. I have to write in order. Occasionally, I get stuck (it might be more than occasionally) and I have to move forward and come back and finish a scene later, but that’s about all I can do out of sequence. It’s probably just a personal quirk (I’ve got quite a few). 

My best advice for writing, whether it’s a story-within-a-story, a stand-alone, a series, short story, whatever, is to figure out what works for you and do that. Writing isn’t a one size fits all activity. Just because one method works for one person, doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. Each person and each writer is different. Writing a book from beginning to end is hard. Don’t make it harder on yourself by trying to be someone else. Also, keep in mind that everyone doesn’t like the story-within-a-story concept. I’ve heard from readers who found it distracting and have told me they skip the British historic cozy. I’ve also heard from readers who prefer the British historic cozy over the contemporary mystery. Every person is different with their own unique likes and dislikes. It will be impossible to please everyone. As a writer, all you can do is focus on writing the best book you possibly can. Keep your fingers crossed. With perseverance, hard work, and a great deal of luck, your dreams can come true, just like Samantha Washington.

Tourist Guide to Murder_TRD

While visiting the land of Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes, bookstore owner and amateur sleuth Samantha Washington finds herself on a tragical mystery tour . . .
 
Sam joins Nana Jo and her Shady Acres Retirement Village friends Irma, Dorothy, and Ruby Mae on a weeklong trip to London, England, to experience the Peabody Mystery Lovers Tour. The chance to see the sights and walk the streets that inspired Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle is a dream come true for Sam—and a perfect way to celebrate her new publishing contract as a mystery author.
 
But between visits to Jack the Ripper’s Whitechapel district and 221B Baker Street, Major Horace Peabody is found dead, supposedly of natural causes. Despite his employer’s unfortunate demise, the tour guide insists on keeping calm and carrying on—until another tourist on their trip also dies under mysterious circumstances. Now it’s up to Sam and the Shady Acres ladies to mix and mingle among their fellow mystery lovers, find a motive, and turn up a murderer . . .

You can read more about Samantha Washington in the other Mystery Bookshop Mysteries.

THE PLOT IS MURDER

READ HERRING HUNT

THE NOVEL ART OF MURDER

WED, READ, AND DEAD

BOOKMARKED FOR MURDER

Purchase Link

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About the author

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V.M. (Valerie) Burns was born and raised in Northwestern Indiana. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Dog Writers Association of America, Thriller Writers International, Southeast Mystery Writers of America, and is on the national board for Sisters in Crime. V.M. Burns is also the Agatha Award nominated author of The Plot is Murder, the first book in the Mystery Bookshop Mystery series; and the RJ Franklin Mystery series. She now lives in Eastern Tennessee with her two poodles. Readers can keep up with new releases by following her on social media.

Website: http://www.vmburns.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vmburnsbooks/

Instagram: https//www.instagram.com/vmburnsbooks

Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/authors/v-m-burns

 

This article was posted for V. M. Burns by Jackie Houchin.

 

What planner to use? My conundrum.

by Cynthia Naden

PLANNER.FRANKLIN 80326_6lrgI have been using a planner since the early 1990s and before when I was in real estate. It was a simple spiral 5×7 notebook. It worked for me until I was introduced to the Franklin Covey Planner when I was a paralegal working for Honda North America. The company was paying for the planners, and everyone was encouraged to use the Franklin system.  I did and loved it. I continued to use the Franklin program even when I changed employers.

I had discovered how beneficial it was and in the habit of writing things down and marking them off when I accomplished them. I hadn’t planned on changing, but when I was forced into early retirement and decided to pursue a writing career, I converted my planning to that of a writer and discovered that it was more important than ever.

PLANNER.NOVEL2 il_1140xN.2394617989_pn00However, I am still in search of the perfect writer’s planner.  I have immersed myself into planning groups and become friends with other authors who use planners. Surprisingly a number of them use a combination of planners. I was surprised to learn that my author friends had incorporated several different ones depending on what they needed to track to organize their busy lives.  They will use an individual planner for personal, family, and writing.

When selecting a planner – there are choices: dated and undated, weekly or daily layout in addition to monthly design, hole punched/loose-leaf, spiral-bound, hardcover bound, softcover bound, size, i.e., 5.75″ x 8.25” or 7″ x 10″, 8” x 11”, and the list goes on. The planner world has expanded into adding stickers for a personal and decorative touch!

PLANNER emma-matthews-digital-content-production-8K62atzbulQ-unsplashI have used a Panda Planner, Amplify, Commit30, Happy Planner, Erin Condren, Define Your Day, Full Focus, and All in One Planner by the Ivory Paper Company.

My problem is that I have tried several different ones besides Franklin and come back to it, but find it lacking and not always exactly what I need for my writing career. Hence, I have a stack of the planners, as mentioned above, that I am using or have tried out.

Help me! What is your go-to planner?

Social Media and Me

by Linda O. Johnston

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First off: Happy St. Patrick’s Day everyone, and the best of luck to you!

Now, into my topic of today: social media and me. And I have to admit I’m far from being an expert. But does that keep me away from some of the sites? No! 

I’m always on my computer, or nearly so. Yes, I spend most of that time writing and editing and pondering the fiction I’m writing. 

But then there’s social media and me.  I spend too much time on Facebook, though I admit I’m not good at it. I look at other people’s posts and comment on them. On my own home page I’m likely to post stuff about anything special about the day, especially if there’s something going on about animals, particularly dogs.  Most recently it was National K9 Veterans Day.  Why?   Because I’m a full-time dog lover.

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I belong to Facebook groups, too. Some involving writing, of course, but that’s  not all. Can you guess the topic in which I’ve joined the most groups? Well, what if I told you there are lots of Facebook groups featuring Cavalier King Charles Spaniels, the dog breed I’m addicted to? Right!

I do have my own website: www.LindaOJohnston.com  And one of these days I’ll add an author page to Facebook. I hope.

 I also get on social media to help promote my published novels. Yes, I do that on Facebook, especially when there’s something new coming out. This year, I’ll have two new Harlequin Romantic Suspense books published, one in August and one in October. You can bet I’ll let the world know via Facebook then.

And then there’s Writerspace. I subscribe to the site, which calls itself Communities for Writers and Readers. They do a lot of promotion for me. There’s a monthly Author News newsletter that I always participate in. I can do blogs there, and have new books featured, and participate in their monthly contest.

You can figure out, since I’m here, that I like to blog. A couple of the sites where I used to blog regularly have shut down, such as Killer Characters. I still blog on Killer Hobbies each Wednesday, but now there are only two of us posting there.  I also blogged on the InkSpot blog fairly regularly, but that was one helping to promote books published by Midnight Ink, one of my former mystery publishers–that now has gone out of business. 

What about other social media sites? I haven’t really gotten into them. I have a Twitter account but never use it except to read others’ posts. I also have a Goodreads account but am seldom there. I don’t do Instagram–or really much of anything else.

 I admire people who do more than me in social media. And I’m generally open to trying something different as long as I don’t have to spend much time learning to do it. 

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So–What do you think of Social Media? What’s your favorite site and why? What do you like to post? How often? And do you think it helps your writing and selling?

WHAT MAGELLAN STARTED…

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  by Rosemary Lord

Hmmm. Well, it’s been a year of discovery, hasn’t it?

When our world was stopped a year ago, by the dastardly Covid pandemic, we had to re-think our entire lives. The way we did everything. The way we worked, lived and communicated. For those of us living alone, we learned more about ourselves. Those quarantined with loved ones and family members, probably learned more about them than they ever wanted to know!

A year later, look at how much we have discovered about us and everyone else and about the world around us. Our priorities have changed. We have learned to appreciate so many things. We have adjusted, we have compromised. We have discovered whole new worlds into which we never would normally have ventured when, at times, the internet or The Discovery Channel were our only companions during this past year.

That’s where Ferdie comes in. Ferdinand Magellan was born into poverty in Portugal in 1480. He was orphaned at 10 years old. Not a great start in life – but he had an imagination and a curiosity. At 12 years old, he was appointed as a page to the Queen of Portugal. He received an excellent and diverse education at the palace. The more he learned, the more curious he became about the world that he knew must be out there, somewhere. Portugal appeared uninterested in his adventurous ideas, so he turned to the King of Spain. The King listened. When Ferdinand Magellan set out to discover new worlds on his Spanish expedition to the East Indies in 1519, he had a goal. He had carefully plotted. (Take heed, writers: plotting can be useful!) He had a plan.

He had decided to prove Copernicus and others wrong, and prove that the earth was not flat.  Magellan became the first explorer to circumnavigate the globe. And he didn’t fall off the edge! He even named the Pacific Ocean such – because it was more peaceful than the Atlantic Ocean he had traversed. He studied clouds, discovered penguins – and the Spice Islands! How exciting!

All because he had planned and plotted and Life had taken him in a different direction and on a different adventure. And because he was curious…

Curiosity – that’s what is so important to writers. Curiosity and a sense of adventure. With a year of no actual travel, many people have turned to ‘armchair travelling.’ Luckily for us writers, people have been reading books as a way of escape, as a way of learning about new lands, new places and people. They’ve been reading far more books than usual. They didn’t have time before. And many have been so inspired by the places they have visited on the written page, that they have resolved to travel far and wide – once the Covid regulations allow.

Our writing has that effect on people. We paint pictures of enchanting islands where romance lingers in the air, or dark, mysterious back-streets winding through spice-scented villages, or vast golden sands stretching out to reach the azure skies. Perhaps an overcrowded city-scape, where throngs of bustling people hurry on about their lives, speaking an unfamiliar language – or the quiet charm of a Cotswold village of fifty years ago, or a painted houseboat on the Ganges…

There’s a whole world out there that we, as writers, have introduced our readers to. Often places we, ourselves, have never visited. We just love to do research and we’re good at it.

For generations, people the world over felt doomed to travelling every rush hour to a cubicle office in an anonymous tower, to work in order to earn a pay check to support their families.

Well, this past year, they discovered that, like us lucky writers, they could do a lot of work from home. Lives changed forever. People got creative and reassessed just how important is that promotion, that fancy office title? Perhaps they could downsize and lessen their financial burdens. Maybe they could stay home and become a carpenter, or a painter – or write that novel they had always felt they had in them… Well they did. And they have.

This past year our writers’ world has changed, too. Without Writers’ Conferences, we have Zoomed, Skyped and learned the mechanics of Webinars. We’ve learned our way through self-publishing, while waiting for traditional publishers to resurface. It seems that more books than ever have been published and more books than ever are being read. If you’re not commuting to the city every day – you have time to read more. A lot more.  So it works out for everyone.

This past year of discovery has affected our writing, too. During the decluttering that we enthused over, we have unearthed and finished old, forgotten manuscripts. Some writers are exploring writing in different genres. They’ve found a different voice. A different song to sing. 

So the adventures and challenges (big and small) of this past year and our discoveries about ourselves and our life today may not sound as exhilarating – and certainly not as dangerous  – as Magellan’s. We may be on a different path now, and not where we thought we needed to be. But it’s still our own discovery and just as magical in its own way. Thank you, Ferdie, for leading the way….             

Posted for Rosemary Lord by G.B. Pool

BACK TO BASICS: Writers’ Boot Camp Part III

 by Miko Johnston

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

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

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

Am I right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 – No ending. The story just stops.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Photo by Kyle Glenn on Unsplash

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

Attempts To Get Off The Sofa

by Jill Amadio

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

These days I have suffered from a lack of inspiration.

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

 

Photo by Inside Weather on Unsplash

Sitting in the Rest Area Thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Happy Writing Trails!


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

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

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

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

 

Challenge Yourself to Read 100 Books THIS Year!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So…hard…to…wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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  1. The 2021 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge.

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

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

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  1.  The Literary Escapes Reading Challenge.

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

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

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Comics from Bookbub blog

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A Valentine to Writers

by Gayle Bartos-Pool

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Valentine’s Day my friends.

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An Interview with CeeCee James

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tall Tails. 51V73wR6tJL

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

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

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

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

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

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

CeeCee. Ghost. 51U7Z+NMrGL

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

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

CeeCee’s web site

Facebook author page

This was posted for CeeCee James by Jackie Houchin