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.

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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. 🙂

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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

Where Do I Go From Here or Do I Blame Covid?

By Cynthia C. Naden  (writing as Claire Naden)

Small Cynthia Period Images #3As I sit at my computer and think back to 2014, I recall how devastating it was to me when I was forced into early retirement. But on the flip side, I looked forward to writing full time.

My first book, Cache in the Stacks, was loosely based on my personal experience of receiving a threatening phone call in the middle of the night. I used that as the premise for Cache, and my writing took off. When I discovered a historical twist that fit into my plot, I asked myself, “Why not write historical fiction?” which I love to read and always wanted to write.

I had an idea and began to develop my characters, settings, timeline, and plot twists. I wrote snippets starting in 2016 and revised my title but kept my characters and the basic premise intact. I wasn’t sure what subgenre it fell into, having started it as a historical romance, and it morphed into a murder mystery taking place during World War II.

In the meantime, I had an idea for a woman’s fiction that would start in my hometown of Pasadena, California, and move quickly to Kauai. Coincidentally, my husband and I planned a trip for our anniversary to Kauai, and I found the perfect opportunity to research my new novel. I gathered information and made contacts on the island, hoping that I would be able to have a book launch at a bookstore on the Garden Island in the future. I couldn’t believe how fast I wrote this book. It was published in December 2019.

I was happy to publish a book a year, but my historical fiction still sat with a few words written here and there. I knew where I wanted to go with it but didn’t know how to get there. To say I was stumped would be an understatement.

Then Covid hit, and my plans to launch my woman’s fiction were put on hold. Covid put me into a state of depression, and I lost my ambition to write. Thankfully, my critique group’s twice-monthly Zoom meetings kept me accountable. I started writing sequels to my first two books. But my historical sat in a holding pattern. It wasn’t that I didn’t think about it but I couldn’t put the “pedal to the metal” and take off with it.

I ask myself do I stay where I am where it’s comfy or move forward with my historical fiction? How can I pull myself up from the utter pits of despair I have felt for the past year?  I don’t think so. My word for 2021 is persevere, and this is what I plan to do: sit down, pull up my manuscript on the computer and write what I dearly love: stories set during World War II, which satisfy my desire to write historical mysteries. Covid may still be here, but I refuse to let it impede my writing. I will persevere!

More about Cynthia, her books, and a review of Cache Under the Stacks

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The Fun and Frustration of Ideas

 

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by Linda O. Johnston

Like many of you who may be reading this, I’m a writer. A fiction writer. That means what I write is rarely true, though of course it needs to be logical and, hopefully, enjoyable.

And how do I figure out what I’ll be writing? Well, my mind is always at work. Whether I’m intending to or not, I’m always coming up with ideas. That, too, probably sounds familiar to many of you.

While watching a TV show a couple of weeks ago, my mind glommed onto its theme as being a great idea for a story. A mystery? Probably. A series? Hopefully. 

But unlike many of my ideas, how to proceed with this one didn’t become automatically clear.  As a result, I’ve been doing a lot of pondering and research and jotting down possibilities. And reading what I can about the general concept.

That’s an important part of writing, of course. The plotting and writing and character development are all essential. But so’s figuring out how you will determine each of them and where your story’s likely to go.

I knew I was scheduled for the WinR blog today and, while at first not knowing what I’d write about, this blog idea finally came to me, too. It’s important for writers to recognize how their minds work at least some of the time. Ideas and me–well, I’d better make note of them and run with them when it makes sense. And writing here about coming up with and following up with ideas–why not?

 So how do you do it? Where do ideas come to you? How do they come to you? Is it always by a similar way, or, like me, do you just keep your mind open to whatever it wants to throw at you and then follow up on those ideas? 

And me? Well, I’m sure I’ll figure out the direction I want to go, probably soon. Will I run with it? Depends on whether I wind up liking my direction as much as the initial idea.

 

 

Artwork Design by Cher Schriefer(Groch)

 

THIS YEAR IT WILL BE DIFFERENT…

 

 by Rosemary Lord

   382e7-rosemary2bat2bburbank2blibrary2bjpg         Ah yes – that’s what so many of us are wishing for this coming year.

For Maeve Binchy fans, this was the title of her best-selling novel about festivities over Christmas and New Year, amidst a tumultuous family saga. The book has a happy ending, of course. And I think that’s what we all want from the happenings of the last nine months.

            The frustrating thing is that the challenges facing people all over the world were not of our choosing – or our fault. Unimaginable circumstances were thrust upon us. We did the best we could. In the beginning, somewhat stunned, we froze. We did as we were told. Because not only lives were at stake – but livelihoods, businesses and careers – and our sanity, due to the forced isolation of most of us.

          LadyWriting  As writers, we were luckier than many, because we are used to being isolated, to working on our own. But for others it was – and is – extremely difficult. But we are survivors and we became adaptable and very creative. Across the nation – and indeed across the world – we worked together and reached out to our neighbors, watched out for strangers and became concerned for those living alone. Especially the elderly. We became better people because of it – and appreciated each other all the more.

We acknowledged our great appreciation for all those Front Line workers, the store clerks, the delivery people, the drivers – all those that had to go out to work to keep our lives running. We learned to appreciate the little things and to count our blessings, remembering that many were far worse off than us.

            People became eager to support their local stores and restaurants by having goods and food delivered for the first time. They recognized how we each depend on each other and that together we could survive. “No man is an island,” wrote English poet John Donne in 1624. It still works well today. During both World Wars our parents and grandparents recalled that ‘everyone pulled together.’ They all looked out for each other and took ‘waifs and strays’ into their homes, as they fought a common enemy. Adversity usually brings people together. It also makes us stronger and more resilient.

            As Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.”

            For so many people last year, their lives changed forever, as they were forced to re-evaluate how they earned a living, after their usual work was shut down by local Governments. Some business owners were able to reinvent their small businesses, but many still struggle for survival.

            As writers, we are very blessed. We rely on ourselves to accomplish our work. No-one else can do it for us.  Yes, I know, we then have to get  literary agents to accept our books and stories, or publishers to produce them – and our readers to buy the finished product. But, think of it. Today, we now have so many news ways to accomplish all this ourselves. We can do it!

            Winston Churchill said: “The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees opportunity in every difficulty.”

            Think of the changes in the writing world in the way our work is published, just in this past year. Our work doesn’t even have to be in printed paper form. Writers have found a new voice in Blogs, Vlogs, Podcasts and many other venues. For the printed books, more and more writers have turned to self-publishing, with the help of Amazon and other sales approaches. Once marginalized, self-publishing has become legitimized – mainstream even. 

Typewriter and desk           As writers, we have been stopped from doing our usual book-signings, our promotional events at bookstores, both local and across the country. With bookstores shut-down and in-person Book Festivals cancelled, due to the pandemic, we no longer had those resources as a way to meet our loyal readers, to introduce ourselves to new readers or to promote our books and garner new followers.

            We learned to be flexible and creative when we couldn’t get out to bookstores, launch our books, attend conferences, and travel across country to book festivals. We went online and explored Zoom rooms and Skype events. We explored, we joined forces with other writers and created different styles of conferences, workshops and writers’ groups.

As a result, we have widened our horizons considerably. Whereas before, we travelled to local bookstores, now we can reach out to readers and other writers, not just across America but across the world. We have quickly adjusted to different time-zones and we are exploring a variety of other writers and new readers across the Globe. How exciting is that?

            And having had our vacations cancelled by assorted Governments restrictions, our wanderlust has been channeled into armchair travelling.

I have read books by an array of writers new to me and had wonderful escapes in Crete, snowy Scotland, Mandalay, and Paris during World War II, the Greek Islands and India. I’ve visited far more places from my armchair without the struggle of today’s air travel – and it doesn’t cost anything.

            I’ve also learned a lot about growing grapes, spinning silk, constructing large houses, farming and how to make really good humus. What’s not to like?

We’ve all been reading a lot more – especially with people being shut-in, they have turned to reading books. Lots of them.

            Some people, forced to abandon their usual nine-to-five work, have turned their hands to writing for the first time ever. They told themselves, “If I only had time, I would write a book…” Well they have and they did. See. Out of adversity, good does come.

            And yes, this year it will be different. We are older, wiser and more appreciative of everything and everyone around us. Happy New Year!

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This page was written by Rosemary Lord and posted by G.B. Pool.

GOODBYE 2020

by Miko Johnston

I’m taking a break from BACK TO BASICS: WRITERS BOOT CAMP, which I’ll complete in my next posting.

Goodbye 2020, and good riddance. The year began horribly when last January, a bizarre mishap led to a friend of mine getting shot while having dinner at an upscale restaurant. An 80 year old woman, healthy, mentally alert and physically active, who golfed, gardened, rescued animals and took piano lessons; if you saw her back then you’d never guess her age. She survived, but complications led to amputation of both her legs. If you told me back then that anything worse could top what happened to my friend, I would not have believed you. 

Back in May I wrote, How will YOU tell the story?, referring to “…an experience unprecedented in our lifetime*”. That asterisk referred to the few exceptions, including my then almost 105 year old aunt who’d lived through the Spanish Flu pandemic. She celebrated her birthday last July, but passed away on Veteran’s Day. Thanks to the ‘unprecedented’ times, I could neither celebrate her milestone birthday with her, nor attend her funeral.

When I originally wrote that post, we had little to guide us other than grave concern and dire predictions, most of which came true. Being married to a scientist who spent his career analyzing data, I took those predictions seriously, unlike too many. As we close in on a year of living dangerously, I have to change my question: it’s no longer a matter of how will we write about this, but how can we not?

I can see endless possibilities for mystery writers, from deliberately using COVID-19 as a murder weapon to inadvertently causing a beloved family member’s death. All writers may focus on how the virus instills fear, closes down communities, has us scurrying furtively between home and car, car and essential travel. Many people who live alone have had cognitive issues worsened by quarantine; those who suffer from depression have declined, whether secluded or not.

How will we react when we finally crawl out of our caves of isolation into the light? When will we feel safe? When will we feel normal? Will it ever happen in our lifetime, or will this haunt us as the Great Depression haunted a generation almost a century ago?

I also can see COVID used as a symbol for the dark fears held within us, and the hopes for a brighter future. Exploring the idea of can we versus should we. Or writing about it as part of a cleansing ritual, to wash away the disappointments, pain and sorrow of 2020.

January always brings the promise of better things to come and we’re all rooting for that. The man who shot my friend goes on trial that month. Ironically, that’s when I’m scheduled for jury duty – what are the odds?

As we head into the holiday season, may 2020 end on a more harmonious note for all of us, and may the new year shine like a beacon, beckoning us toward a safer, calmer and healthier future. At last, something we can all agree upon.

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

Photo by engin akyurt on Unsplash

Marketing our Mysteries

by Jill Amadio

Marketing our mysteries is probably one of the least preferred tasks on our to-do list but it is crucial if we wish for success and sales. I truly dislike having to hawk my books and with so many different avenues than ever from which to choose, the effort becomes far more onerous than ever. But with writers’ conferences shut down and virtual meetings on the rise I found time to think about how to increase my book sales.

Five Guides

In isolation, I decided to buckle down and educate myself further about book promoti0on, buying five guides to add to the two I already own which are The Frugal Book Promoter by Carolyn Howard Johnson, and Red Hot Internet Publicity by Penny Sansevieri.  I must confess I barely cracked open either of them but added them to five new books from amazon:  The Tao of Book Publicity by Paula MarguliesHow I Sold 80,000 Books by Alinka  Rutkowska, Marketing Books on Amazon by Rob EagarBook Marketing…Reinvented by Bryan Heathman, and another by Penny updated in 2019., titled 5-Minute Book Marketing for Authors. Naturally there are overlaps in all of these guidance books, some of them explained well with detail and others just glossed over. I offer my opinions herewith.

Five Minutes?

The 5-Minute book intrigues me the most. Five minutes? That’s just 30 minutes spread over a six-day week. Surely we can all handle that. Packed not only with advice on how to promote, Sansevieri includes a generous selection of web sites to contact after each point she makes. For example, to promote eBooks Penny presents dozens of free sites where you can list your book, as well as sites on Twitter worth notifying. She also  has several advice sections on how to use amazon’s author page, book page, reviews, how best to demystify amazon’s categories, key words, etc. if you self-publish with them. Her book offers the main benefits of Instagram, Pinterest, BookBub, Goodreads, Facebook, Google Alerts, blogs, and other social media, as well as creating your own newsletter for visibility.

Amazon

While on the subject of amazon, Bob Eagar’s guide focuses entirely on making the best use of the online global bookseller. He tells us how to find and understand their bestseller rankings, how to estimate your book sales, and why the rankings aid marketing efforts. Eagar also debunks a few myths about those rankings, as they change every hour of every day but at least give an idea of your sales, unlike traditional publishing houses. If there’s a spike upwards does it mean that your recent marketing campaign was effective? Or vice versa?  Your non-amazon publisher probably buys ads on the amazon site which means you can check your rankings without self-publishing with them. Is amazon advertising your book? You can find out from the site he cites in his book.

How to Sell 80,000 books

Moving on, I was eager to know how to sell 80,000 books. The author’s name alone fascinated me and I wondered who Rutkowska is. Turns out she is a bestselling USA Today and Wall Street Journal author and founder of Library Bub that connects indie authors with 10,000 libraries although you can find this list yourself online now.

A third of the book sets out interesting interviews with bestselling authors as to their promotional strategies, and Alinka shares how she sold those 80,000 books and more not only on amazon but also through online sites, bulk sales, foreign rights (there’s a service site for this), networking, and clubs. Happily, most of us are already skilled as panelists and speakers. She tells us something I never knew – that Apple is the second-largest book market player after amazon and publishes books, she says. Something also new to me, that Kobo is the second largest eBook retailer in Japan and has 3% of the market in the U.S. Is your YA plot linked to the ocean? If so, Alinka says we should contact the retail department of the cruise lines. They ordered hundreds of copies of her children’s books for their gift shops.

Selling the Sizzle

Heathman’s informal and friendly book includes branding and marketing formulas and understands the angst authors feel about the work that is necessary. He gets down quickly to the nitty-gritty of selling the sizzle, and like the other guides, talks about the various avenues available except that he adds how fortunate we are these days to have so many ways to promote our work and exactly how you approach Barnes and Noble through their CRM author signing schedule. I like his emphasis on reading local print media so you know what they are looking for regarding author interviews, and especially regarding radio. Don’t leave it up to organizations and clubs to publicize your event, get to work! However, his advice to create a daily series of social media posts sounds a bit daunting. I like Heathman’s list for getting quality book endorsements you can use for your back cover, press releases, and on your website and blog. Particularly useful is his 15 Week Book Marketing Checklist chart.

A ‘How-To’ Guide

The how-to book promotion guide I have taken a special liking to is The Tao of Publicity. Margulies directs it to beginners trying to figure out how to publicize one’s books but even those skilled at it can learn something from her pages. Like the other guides mentioned above except for Penny’s lengthier tomes, the Tao is around 145 pages but is crammed with tips, ideas, website content advice, timing your launch, Q and A questions for the media to ask, the pros and cons of a blog tour, why limiting social media sites can be a better way initially to build relationships with readers, and many other issues.  Ever heard of dashboards Hootsuite, Threadsy, and Tweetdeck to post information about your books? And make sure you take into consideration America’s different time zones.

After reading all seven guides I found something in each one that was individual enough to make a note of, writing down the page numbers. However, I am now too exhausted to figure them out.

 If you care to share, which promotional ideas bring you the most reward?  

Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Alas……

I’ve always wanted to use the word “Alas” as a title for something because the word says so much to me, and sounds so much nicer, than therefore, thus, consequently…and for me, it does not have a negative connotation

As they often are, my posts tend toward being egocentric—having to do with something I’m dealing with. My thinking is, if I’m going through/learning/puzzling over something, maybe my thoughts will help other writers going through the same thing? So here’s the latest from my little corner of the writing world.

I’m on the umpteenth adjustment/edit of my latest, “Never Forgotten.” My first novella. And though scheduled to be out right now—unfortunately “Never Forgotten is turning into seemingly “Never Finished.”

And I blame it all on Writers in Residence!

Alas, I’ve listened to both what my fellow Writers in Residence, and what our commenters have said here; and most importantly, I’ve tried to incorporate their insights into my thinking. If that sounds like a plug, it is. My advice to myself and others, has always been, listen, listen, listen.You may not use it all, or disagree…but if you don’t listen, you’ll never know if you missed a great tidbit.

And a lot of the great tidbits I’ve picked up are not direct editing(in the traditional usage), but incorporating concepts, ideas, story-telling enhancements.  Refinements that raise your writing to a higher level. And that kind of editing, for me, takes longer than fixing misplaced commas et al. (not that I don’t do an awful lot of that)… Here’s a recent example. I had several lead characters doing the activities in one day that you or I would need at least three days to do. I noticed that in this latest edit because of Gayle Bartos-Pool’s excellent post on laying out your time line.

Here are a couple more time consuming review items that I’ve picked up on this writing trail…

    • I write in third person and as such consider I need to be a disaffected narrator of events, while also getting inside the head of the current scenes POV(usually the protagonist or villian) character and emotions. Keeping that straight …
    • And of course, have I used the best words? i.e. Holding, clasping, clutching, or grasping LC’s diary in his hand.
    • Redundancies, and its counter-balance—not clearly explaining at least once.
    • Conclusions left out, because one is assuming the reader put my two and two together correctly.
    • Pictures of characters not clearly drawn (hard one), and again, its counter-balance, letting the reader develop their own picture from people they’ve known.
    • Words inconsistent with scene POV character’s life experiences

My point to all this whining is: because of Writers in Residence, “Never Forgotten,” whenever it’s finally out, will be better for all the advice and knowledge I’ve gotten here. So, I most heartily, not only encourage other writers to read our blog (another blatant plug), but if not us, find that group, that person, that editor—that can not only give “editing” advice, but also address good writing concerns. Having a story go from your head—to paper, is not enough. I definitely want a reader to understand and enjoy my little stories. And hopefully, want to come back for more. My egocentric opinion I know, but I really think a genuine area for thought.

As a side note: being privileged enough to be a Writer in Residence, has led me into thinking about my writing a lot, and I’ve received and taken in soooooo much great advice. And finally, on the “Never Forgotten” front, my LAST(smile) pass is currently being reviewed by my trusted editor Kitty Kladstrup.

A further nugget here besides just me bellyaching about editing…is to point out that good writing, I think, takes effort and hard work. That being said, I can’t really see Agatha Christie at her Remington Home Portable typewriter agonizing over whether Hercule was sitting, lounging, arranged in his chair…  Hmmm.

Alas, it’s never a straight line to anything….

Happy Writing Trails!

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