Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Want to Write a Book? 6 Things I’ve Learned

    By Kay Kendall

By now I’ve written fiction long enough to trust my own habits. Once, when I was a real newbie, I believed I must do just as the experts advise. But now I know on some points the experts differ.
1.   If your process works for you, trust it. For example, while most experts advise to rip through your first draft quickly, without editing as you go, I just can’t. I used to feel guilty—since I was doing things WRONG. Finally, lo and behold, I learned about other authors, bestselling authors, who also begin their writing days by editing what they wrote the day before. Whew. What a relief.
Here are some other habits I’ve also learned to trust:
2.     2. Keep reading. If you’re writing your own book, don’t stop reading other ones. I’ve read more, not less, since I began to write fiction. I submerged myself in the mystery/suspense genre for almost two years before I started Desolation Row—An Austin Starr Mystery. Picking up the tricks of the trade by osmosis works better for me than gulping ten dry how-to tomes. 
3.     Keep a notebook beside your bed. “Brilliant” thoughts are fleeting. Pin them down before they get away. I learned the hard way that wonderful ideas at 3:00 a.m. disappear by the time I awake in the morning. 
4.     Keep exercising. Health gurus are adamant that sitting all day is a terrible habit that can lead to early death and/or dementia. Besides, when I’m on my exercise bike, I zone out and then ideas for my writing zone in. The mind-body connection is worth protecting with sufficient exercise. However, it’s time for a true confession. I have trouble with this one, especially when I’m on deadline. 
5.     Keep up with your pals. Writing can be a lonely pursuit, and trying to get published these days is a killer. I needed all the support I could get, and my friends stepped up and stayed there right beside me on my journey. They kept me going through the darkest days and have been my staunchest supporters and shared my joy upon publication. I’ve also made new friends as I’ve joined writers’ critique groups and associations. I’m a staunch believer in the truth of what Barbra Streisand sang back in the sixties. “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
6.     Keep the faith. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.” When I saw that on a coffee mug for sale 15 years ago, I was too scared to pick it up. How dare I think I could write a novel? But I forced myself to buy that mug, and after using it for two years and writing my first manuscript, I began timidly to call myself a writer. Hold fast to your dream. Keep it alive by doing it.
I have faith I will complete new books because two of my mysteries have been published and the third will come out soon. I’ve pushed through the dark times, “getting by with a little help from my friends.” (Footnote to the Beatles) Moreover, if I’ve done this, then you can too. As we used to say back in the day, just keep on truckin’. And find what works best for you. Your mileage may differ from mine, but just do it.
Meet the author

Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and now writes mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. A reformed PR executive who won international awards for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff. 
In 2015 Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion Awards at Killer Nashville.
Visit Kay at her website <>
or on Facebook <>

Monday, August 13, 2018

Power Trip

If someone were to ask me what the Country Club Murders are about, I’d tell them, “Women finding their power—and murder. Lots of murder.”
Ellison Russell has spent most of her life being safe and protected. Now a single mother, she has the opportunity to take risks, to stand on her own, to own her life.
The problem is that almost everyone in her life would like her to stay safe. Even her mother. Especially her mother.
“Ellison, we want you safe. Just like you want to keep Grace safe.”
            I wanted Grace to be safe but I didn’t want her to be packed in cotton until she found a man to take care of her. I wanted her to have a life. I wanted a life. On my own terms. “I appreciate the sentiment. I do. But I’m not going to apologize or consign myself to marriage just so I can have a man take care of me.”
            The theme, which was valid in the seventies, is still valid today.
            For Ellison, power is the freedom to make choices.
            For Ellison, power is owning the consequences of her choices.
            For Ellison, power is the ability to protect herself from predators, from gossip, and from well-meaning family members who would map the course of her life.
            Writing Ellison’s journey, watching her find her power and realize she doesn’t have to do it all alone, has been a joy. And a learning experience.
            Thanks for joining Ellison and me on the journey.

Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders and the Poppy Fields Adventures. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.

Ellison's next book, Back Stabbers, releases October 23.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Magic Moments for Readers and Writers

Magic Moments for Readers and Writers by Debra H. Goldstein
Sometimes a good thing only gets better. Last weekend, I was part of one of those perfect magic moments as a participant at Mystery in the Midlands

Let me tell you about how it came together.
A year ago, Jeffrey Deaver, as president of Mystery Writers of American (MWA) offered to cover his own expenses and put on workshops throughout the country. On behalf of SEMWA (the Southeast region), he came to Columbia, South Carolina. His program was such a success, that involved members of SEMWA and the Palmetto Chapter of Sisters of Crime hoped they could partner for another dynamic program. But how?
Perhaps it was divine providence, but they discovered Sisters in Crime had started a national speakers
bureau program that permitted a chapter to apply for one of a finite number of grants which would sponsor designated speakers to come to the chapter for whatever type of program the chapter wanted. The SinC educational initiative, which was just starting, was designed to enable all SinC chapters access to writers and programs they would never be able to fund.
Fingers crossed, Palmetto’s leadership applied for a SinC grant and was awarded the opportunity to
have Elaine Viets come to Columbia. Rather than simply inviting local people to hear Elaine speak, Paula Gail Benson and Riley Miller put their heads together and decided to forge a partnership between the Palmetto Chapter of SinC and SEMWA to offer a mystery workshop for readers and writers headlined by Elaine, but which would also showcase other authors as panelists and master class teachers.
Because of Paula and Riley’s vision, what could have been a local affair, became Mystery in the Midlands, an event attended by eighty plus people from five different states. Besides Elaine, eighteen other authors were showcased amidst book sales, signings, and networking. Not only did the conference run smoothly, but a silent auction of books donated by the participating authors generated scholarship funds for three children to participate in My First Books SC, a statewide partnership affiliated with Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. It provides books for registered children from birth to age five.
Mystery in the Midlands was held in Columbia’s beautiful St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The church’s main fellowship hall was used for registration, refreshments, and the panel discussions, but the three master classes were held in the boardroom, choir room, and sanctuary. And yes, it was Jewish me, who was assigned to teach my master class on conflict under the stained windows depicting the Good Shepherd and other scenes from the Bible. Apparently, things went okay because I had a good audience and none of us was struck by lightning or any other disasters.
Participants left the day looking forward to next year’s Mystery in the Midlands. Amazing what magic a simple idea, good leaders, partnerships and enthusiasm can create. Will I see you there or 

perhaps in Decatur, Georgia on October 6, when SEMWA and the Atlanta Chapter of SinC co-sponsor an all-day workshop on the Psychology of Writing featuring Toni L.P. Kelner – Leigh Perry, Dr. Stephen M. Kelner, and fifteen other authors?

Thursday, August 9, 2018

The Case of the Curious, Crazy Chicana in Catholic City written by Juliana Aragon Fatula photographs from friends, poets, writers, performers, healers, singers, artists, hunters.

 This piece is a work of fiction. 
The names were changed, but what the hell? 
I’m a writer I make shit up.

I love this sentence. It's a survivors prayer. 
I love this photo because my husband, Pussy Kat, is in the group shot. He's the vato in the green shirt. He accompanies me to the award ceremonies and most community events, if he’s not scouting or camping or hunting or chasing his dreams in the high country. I’m such a witch, huh. 
What follows are some of my late-night ramblings when I have been busy living my life and not sitting at the computer writing and blogging and shit. So, excuse me if I feel too good to care. Medical Marijuana makes my mania less manic. Just kidding. Seriously, my arthritis and depression are livable because of an ancient Native American herb for healing called Cannabis.
The Case of the Curious Chicana from Catholic City, a preview.
I’m furious. 
At myself.
I’m on a rant about writing.

Help me Lord. 
My husband never writes or reads.

I’m a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Hey ya hey ya hey ya ya

Nervous breakdown hey ya.

I’ve tried to explain 
my artistic process to him 
but alas it would be similar to him 
describing to me 
how to track and hunt 
moose, deer, elk, antelope. 
I just don’t care about hunting. 
He talks hunting, scouting, camping, wildlife, non-stop.

I talk non-stop about my passion, writing. 
But he has no concept of what it takes to read a book let alone write a book. 
Yes, I said it.
He reads the newspaper every day and hunting magazines but not books. 
He’s not a reader. 
You must be a reader to be a writer, 
so no wonder he fails to understand 
what I need to be a successful writer.

I finished the m.s. rough draft. 
I made the mistake of telling him I had finished the book.

He had no clue what that meant.

He thought we were off to the publisher and wala a book.

He sees me revising and asks, “What ya doin’?”

I tell him, “I’m polishing. Cutting words, adding scenes, checking my research, looking for time continuity, checking the weather, rainfall, and phase of the moon in Atlanta in 1992 on July 4th.”

“Why? I thought you were done. You said, ‘I finished my book’ unquote.”

He doesn’t actually speak like that. He says, “You know what I mean, man.? You know? Man.” But he has a slight PA accent where they say things like you-ins. So he says, “Ya know what I mean, man?”

“I finished the rough draft. Pendejo. I print it on my printer at home in my kitchen. I read it for pleasure. I read it for typos. I read it for…”

“Wait. Man, I thought ya were done, done and we could go camping. Ya said ya was done.”

“I also said, I had to send it to readers and have them give me feedback, remember?”


“Well, I can’t proofread the novel on the computer screen. 
I print it on paper and punch three-hole notebook and get out my highlighters and post its. 
I read it to check for continuity, to make sure it’s whole and not missing any important details.”

“And he says, “I’m hungry.”

This is my shero in the seventies. Janis Joplin hippy chic, mujer muy mujer.

So today, I lost my temper and screamed at him, “That’s it, pendejo. I’m never speaking to you about my writing, ever, ever again. Pinche cabrón. You leave me for an hour to work on my deadline due tonight at 3am and I’ll forgive you, but don’t frickin’ speak one word to me now. I’m pissed. You just don’t get it. What I do. 
I’m a frickin’ writer, cabrón.

I read, and I write.

That’s what I do.


You are an outdoorsman.

You scout, camp, hunt, harvest your game, tan the hide, mount the antlers in the hallway, you photograph every kill.

I’ve seen my limit of dead animal photos on your phone. You love that shit.

I love writing.

That’s the shit that makes me get out of bed in the morning.

I live to write.

And you have pushed me to my frickin’ limit with your inability to respect my work and my process.

I’m not your cook, maid, chef, laundress, gardener…
I’m your frickin’ wife. 
I deserve respect.

If you say one more negative word about my spending too much time reading and writing and blogging and texting and going to writing workshops…I’m writing a murder mystery and someone might end up dead or missing in the sequel. The story goes… about a woman who writes mysteries. Her husband resents her writing and so he torments her, nags her, preaches, yells, screams, cusses, has hissy fits. So one day she goes into the knife drawer…dun dun dun. 
The Colorado Sisters 2017ish

I’m sorry if I’m too twisted for you, but I warned you, readers, that I’m the Crazy Chicana in Catholic City and I am irreverent.

So, if not for my laziness, my love of cooking, gardening, even doing laundry relaxes me; I would have finished my book and would be submitting for publication.

So, like the dog that I am, I blame it on my puss, that’s what I call him.

Pussy pie. Puss puss. Pussy cat…

He’s a great guy and an extraordinary successful hunter and provides the meat on the table. But I long for an imaginary man that loves dancing, cooking, and reading. A man that loves to read. I made the mistake of asking Mother Earth for a miracle. I wasn’t specific and so she sent my husband to me. 
We are very different, but also very much the same. He’s my best friend and I shouldn’t kick his ass in print like this, but hey, I warned him, “I’m the Crazy Chicana in Catholic City. BTW, we’ve been married since 1992. Most of them happily. 
I hope if you enjoyed this post, you will leave me a note in the comments. I’ll be back in two weeks on August 23rd 2018. I promise you’ll enjoy the next post. 

Monday, August 6, 2018

Past & Present: Cover Reveal and ARC Giveaway

Judy Penz Sheluk reporting in with news of my latest book and an ARC Giveaway! 

I'm beyond excited to announce that Past & Present, the second book in my Marketville Mystery series, is now available for pre-order on Amazon for the special introductory price of $2.99. This is the sequel to Skeletons in the Attic, which actually reached #1 on Kindle and stayed on Amazon's Top 100 for the first 30 days after release in three categories (of course I took a screenshot).

In Past & Present, protagonist Callie Barnstable starts her own business in Marketville: Past & Present Investigations. Here's a bit about it:
Sometimes the past reaches out to the present...It’s been thirteen months since Calamity (Callie) Barnstable inherited a house in Marketville under the condition that she search for the person who murdered her mother thirty years earlier. She solves the mystery, but what next? Unemployment? Another nine-to-five job in Toronto? 
Callie decides to set down roots in Marketville, take the skills and knowledge she acquired over the past year, and start her own business: Past & Present Investigations.
It’s not long before Callie and her new business partner, best friend Chantelle Marchand, get their first client: a woman who wants to find out everything she can about her grandmother, Anneliese Prei, and how she came to a “bad end” in 1956. It sounds like a perfect first assignment. Except for one thing: Anneliese’s past winds its way into Callie’s present, and not in a manner anyone—least of all Callie—could have predicted. 
Early reviews from Advance Reader Copies (ARCs) have been terrific. Our very own Stiletto Gang member Debra Goldstein said, "A well-crafted story that keeps readers engages as history blends into the present."

While every story I write holds a special meaning for me, Past & Present is especially meaningful. The release date of September 21, 2018 is also the second anniversary of my mother, Anneliese Penz's, death. It's a bittersweet memory to know that the last book she read was Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in the series. But it's more than that--my mom left behind a small suitcase filled with immigration papers, passports, and photographs, among others; documents I had never seen. They formed the basis for the book, and subsequently helped to frame Callie's investigation into the past.

My mom was so pleased that I dedicated Skeletons in the Attic to my father, Anton Penz, who died many years ago of stomach cancer at the age of forty-two. Of course, there's a very important Anton in Past & Present. I like to think they're together again, watching my journey, and encouraging me every step of the way.

LEAVE A COMMENT for a chance to WIN a Kindle ARC of Past & Present. The winner will be selected on Friday, August 10th.

And...if you feel so inclined...

Pre-order here (and thank you!)

Friday, August 3, 2018

How to Get a Handle on Using Your Novel Research

by Linda Rodriguez

Right now, I am teaching an online course in research for the novel, so my mind is turned to research, and I thought I would offer a quick and dirty look at research for novelists.

Research is vital for all fiction writers to a certain extent, and for those writing novels such as historical or science fiction or techno-thrillers, research can make or break their books. Yet research has its pitfalls and needs to be kept under control.

It’s always a mistake to allow research to consume the story you’re trying to tell. You can’t allow your desire to show off all of your great research to leave your narrative littered with details that slow down your pacing and clog up the narrative drive of your book. It’s often better to have something mentioned in passing and not defined or explained because your characters would know what it was. If you feel that some kind of explanation is needed for the readers, put it in context with a conversation, often joking, about some difficulty with the object or law or situation that uses the barest minimum of detail.

Another major issue—and probably the most important—in dealing with research is organizing it so that you can lay your hands on the item you need as you are writing that passage. There are several possible ways to organize research, and which is best depends on how your mind works and which you prefer to work with.

If you prefer to work with notes you take by hand or have a lot of physical documents to refer to, one or more portable file boxes with folders for each category of information—or period of time or whatever organizing principle you choose to use—will keep everything where you can readily access it. Binders are also a good way to keep track of notes, documents, printouts, and with enclosed pocket pages, smaller pieces of research or items that don’t lend themselves to lying flat or being hole-punched. You may even be a hardcore 3x5 card user, and you can find card files with dividers that allow you to organize these, as well.

If you prefer to do everything on the computer, you can set up in your word processer a master folder for the book full of lesser folders organized the way you would organize the physical files we talked about. You can also use a notes program, such as Evernote or One Note, which can be organized in any way you choose and can store photos, graphics, and videos, as well as allowing you to tag items with sources or cross-references.

Another good choice for technophiles is Scrivener or other similar book-writing programs, such as yWriter. Each of these allows you to add research notes to the actual chapter or scene where they will be used and then move them around, if need be. Scrivener also has a virtual 3x5 card function and a timeline function that can be a real lifesaver for complex books. Scrivener, of course, has many other functions.

One of the things I always try to do is to keep a simple Word document going to which I add the names of everyone I’ve talked with to research a book. Then, when I need to write my acknowledgments page, I have that information at hand and don’t have to worry about forgetting anyone who helped me by answering questions.

Chronology and timelines can be a real problem, not only for historical novelists and fantasy saga writers, but for others, such as mystery writers, who have to juggle the timeline of what really happened at the same time they are dealing with the timeline of how the protagonist solved the crime. For a simple timeline, you can keep track of things in your writing software, but for more complex or extensive timelines, you can either turn to Scrivener, which has a useful timeline function, or many of the other programs available online that deal with timelines only, such as Preceden, Aeon, Smartdraw, etc.

Of course, you can also go the old-fashioned way of constructing a comprehensive timeline to tape to your office wall, if you have a nice, long horizontal space available. If not, you can tape it in big chunks to large pieces of poster board and set them up against your wall or on a table or floor when you need to look at the entire timeline and perhaps shift something around on it.

Fortunately, there are many options for organizing research open to writers today. It’s simply a matter of choosing one or a combination of them that fits your mental style of working and using it religiously. That last bit is vital. You can have the best, most up-to-date method of organizing your research, but if you don’t use it consistently, it won’t support the work you’re trying to do. So, if you find yourself intimidated by the technological wonders, you might be better off using an old-fashioned file-folder system or binders you feel comfortable in using, rather than a state-of-the-art system you’re too nervous to use regularly. Research organization is for your benefit alone. You don’t have to impress anyone else, so use what really works for you.

Linda Rodriguez's Dark Sister: Poems has just been released. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published to high praise in 2017. Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery novel featuring Cherokee campus police chief, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2019. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, and Every Last Secret—and her books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in the anthology, Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film.

Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Visit her at

Thursday, August 2, 2018

5 Reasons to Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

By Sparkle Abbey

Comfort Zone
The level at which one functions with ease and familiarity-Merriam Dictionary
Have you ever felt stagnant, like your treading water? Have you thought that it was possibly time to get out of your comfort zone? But what does it really mean? In a nutshell – doing something you don’t feel comfortable doing. To push yourself to do something you wouldn’t normally do.

Habits are comfortable, but can they lead to limitations if we don’t test ourselves in small or big ways. Here are five reasons why you should break out of your comfort zone. 
  1. It’s probably not at as bad as you think—when we are afraid to try something new or different, we tend to think about the worst case scenario. Instead of thinking about what could go wrong, think about what could go right.
  2. You grow – Trying something new, whether you succeed or not, causes growth. Build on those experiences.
  3. Each time you step out of your comfort zone, the next time gets easier - Success breeds more success. Enough said.
  4. You get out of your way – You know that saying, you can’t see the forest for the trees? Sometimes we can’t see what we can accomplish because we’re too afraid to try. Get out of your way.
  5. It can change your life – If you don’t take risks how will you ever truly know what you’re capable of?
As a writer, stepping out of the comfort zone could mean tackling a longer novel, writing about a topic that has a deep personal meaning, writing about what you don’t know, trying a new plotting technique, taking an in-person craft class, or public speaking.

In your day-to-day life, getting out the comfort zone could mean ordering a new dish at your favorite restaurant, taking a different route to work, spending time by yourself without your cell phone, enrolling in a personal growth class, volunteering, trying a new sport, or becoming a mentor.

Pushing yourself out of the comfort zone is hard. It won’t be painless. You’ll likely have to face a self-defeating behavior—fear of failure, fear of success, perfectionism, etc. If you don’t stretch yourself, you’ll miss out on life experiences, achieving goals, and turning your dreams into reality.

Are you ready to take a risk and do something that will make you feel uncomfortable? We promise it’s worth the challenge.