Tuesday, January 22, 2019

How To Beat the February Blues

By Lynn McPherson

I’ve always found my least favorite time of the year starts sometime near the end of January and lingers until the beginning of March. I suppose I could just call it February. It may be the ongoing cold weather or the pinch of the holiday expenses coming in—I couldn’t say for sure. But this year, as it quickly approaches, I’ve made the conscious decision not to let it get the best of me. I’m going to beat the February Blues. I’ve come up with a few ideas of how to accomplish this feat. I thought today I’d share my thoughts, in case you find yourself with the same approaching aversion.

To start, I’m going to set daily and weekly writing goals. I do this most of the time anyways, but in February I’m going to increase the word count—just by a bit—in order to try to maximize my feelings of satisfaction and achievement. It shouldn’t be hard to do—I have few social engagements for the month and even less distractions that interfere with writing time.

Next, I’m going to plan an overnight hotel stay with my family using reward points I accumulated over the last few months of holiday spending. Not anywhere far—just somewhere with an indoor pool and room service so entertainment and dinner is covered. This might switch to UberEats, but the point is that I will not have to prepare the food myself.

My last idea is to get outside more. I have all the gear I need to stay warm out there. Instead of trying to avoid the cold and wish it away, I will attempt to embrace it. I need to remind myself that the crisp air will invigorate my spirit and get my endorphins going. Even a few minutes will accomplish this challenge.

So, there you have it. None of these are particularly lofty goals. But if I aim too high, I may fail and then feel worse for it. It will be an interesting experiment whether I can change my experience through thoughtful planning and a better attitude. If anyone has other suggestions, I’d love to hear them. It’s a work in progress, so these are just my initial ideas. I’m open to add or substitute anything that might work.

Here’s to a great start!

Lynn McPherson has worked for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, ran a small business, and taught English across the globe. She has travelled the world solo where her daring spirit has led her to jump out of airplanes, dive with sharks, and learn she would never master a surfboard. She now channels her lifelong love of adventure and history into her writing, where she is free to go anywhere, anytime. Her cozy series has two books out: The Girls' Weekend Murder and The Girls Whispered Murder.  


Monday, January 21, 2019

The Novels Not Read

by Paula Gail Benson

I grew up in a home where reading was encouraged. No book was off limits, although some with graphic battle photos were not placed in my hands. However, they remained on the shelf where I had access, if I wanted to look. If I had questions, I could ask my parents for an explanation.
Only twice did I make the decision not to read a book. The first time, I was in the eighth grade and learned the students in another class could only read To Kill a Mockingbird with their parents’ permission. Approval to read a book was a new concept for me and signaled that there must be reasons why books should not be read. It gave me the impression that there was something wrong with the novel. For years, that kept me from reading Harper Lee’s masterpiece. When I finally did in college, I was upset with myself for having delayed.
The second book I put off reading was M.C. Beaton’s The Quiche of Death. It had been the selection of a mystery book club prior to my joining. Several members I respected disliked the novel and made disparaging comments about it, so I decided not to read it.
Fast forward to the Agatha Raisin series being produced on Netflix. I was visiting a friend and suggested we give it a try. The stories completely surprised me. Agatha was an intriguing person, for her flaws as much as her initiative, and the plots, based on Beaton novels and shorts, had symmetry and logic.
I went to Barnes and Noble and found that The Quiche of Death had been reprinted to coincide with the program’s debut. It contained a forward by Beaton. Reading her background intrigued me. Here was a person who persisted to enter the business of writing and let no obstacle stop her from reaching her goals. She had published 25 Agatha Raisin books as well as another series about Hamish MacBeth.
The Quiche of Death was written in the 1990s. It opened with Agatha’s retirement from a business she built. I was surprised how much of Agatha’s backstory worked its way into the first chapter and wondered if it might be rejected if submitted today. However, by the end of the first chapter, the murder had occurred, and Agatha was poised to solve the mystery.
Now, I’m delighting in reading the books in this series (as well as The Agatha Raisin Companion) and learning from Beaton’s story structure and character development. It’s a great way to start the new year!

Friday, January 18, 2019

Halloween in February? Reading Out of Season

by Shari Randall

Back when I worked as a children’s librarian, there was a little boy named Jamie who loved to read Halloween books – no matter the season.  And when I say Halloween books, I don’t mean just scary books. He liked books set on the holiday itself. He loved Halloween.

So what did he check out when his family gathered books for a trip to the beach? Halloween books.
When his family picked up books to read over spring break? Halloween books.
Christmas break? Halloween books.

I myself tend to save holiday reading for the holidays. It feels funny to take a A Christmas Carol to the beach.

I set my latest mystery, DRAWN AND BUTTERED, at Halloween. I have to give it to Jamie – there’s something so enticing about Halloween, all the excitement, the thinning-veil-between-the-world-of-the-living-and-the-dead, the masquerades. The nights are longer and the dark itself is heavy with excitement and deception – perfect for a mystery.

But my publisher is releasing DRAWN AND BUTTERED on February 26. They know what they are doing and I put my trust in them but I can’t help thinking, Halloween in February?

So what do you think, Dear Readers? Do you read Halloween books all year round? Was Jamie onto something? Let me know in the comments.

Shari Randall is the author of the Lobster Shack Mystery series from St. Martin's Press. She loves lobster, but may be a teensy bit allergic to it.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Top Ten Writing Tips

Top Ten Writing Tips

By Cathy Perkins

I can’t believe it’s already the middle of January! How are you coming with your New Year’s Resolutions?

One of my resolutions was to transfer the organization I always implemented in my day job to my writing life. Since my writing space and habits were a bit (cough, a lot) disorganized, I got together with some author friends. What quickly evolved was a set of writing tips. Many of these I’ve done without conscious thought. I’m attempting to be more mindful, however, and plan to use this structure as additional motivation to, as one friend puts it, finish the damn book.

So, without further fanfare – the writing tips:

Ten - Make lists. Every day I make a list of the things I want to accomplish that day. (I’m not sure what it says about me that I love drawing a line through an item when it’s done.) The first line (every day but Sunday) is always, Write. Long-term-goals are listed on my white board: things I want to be sure I don’t forget, but I don’t have to do today.

Nine – Sprint.  A group of us grabs our first, or next, cup of coffee and checks in, then we all ignore each other, turn off the internet and the phone, and work steadily for an hour. It’s a writing club, a mutual support group, and a fabulous technique for working without interruption. I write until I meet my word count goal for the day. (Thank Steven King for this one.)

Eight – Work on one series at a time. I try my best to immerse myself in one setting, one set of characters, one story, whether I’m working on a first draft or revising a draft. Avoiding the “new shiny” keeps me focused.

Seven – Finish what’s due first. Except #8 blows up sometimes. I’ll be in first draft mode on Pony Ring and edits will come in from Beaver Pond. I operate on the First Due principle. I knock out the edits, because they’re due in a week or two, then get back to the longer work. The problem with doing that, of course, is getting back up to speed with the work-in-process, so I can re-immerse myself in that world.

Six – Take time away from the desk. By the end of a writing session, my creative brain is mush. I usually go for what I call my plotting walk, especially if I’m writing a first draft. There’s something about the rhythm of walking that brings the next scene or a plot problem into focus. It makes the dogs happy to get out of the house, too.

Five – Separate creative time from admin time. I’m most creative in the early morning, so I do my writing then. A corollary is, Keep creative time sacred. I don’t schedule anything else for mornings. I try to keep writing blog posts, scheduling author events, record-keeping, and all the other business stuff for the evenings.

Four – Work ahead. Know what you want to accomplish – I’ve written my goals for the year and set up a time table to implement them. That means I work now on upcoming items instead of waiting and scrambling at the last minute.

Three – Outsource what I can’t do. While I tinker with art and photo-editing, I know my limits with graphic design. I hire a wonderful cover artist. I like formatting my books, but it’s something I can do in the evening while my husband watches TV. The key point is identifying what I’m good at and enjoy, versus what I can outsource. Why waste time on things it would take me forever to do and rob me of the hours I need to do what I’m good at – writing stories?

Two – Stay healthy. I always have a full flask of water on my desk. Fluids in, fluids out. It makes me get up and move around every hour or so. And if I forget, my Fitbit buzzes at me with a reminder. I try to eat lean fresh foods, and I get regular exercise even if it isn’t always a sweaty gym workout. And the exercise doubles as creative time - see #6!

One – Butt in the chair, fingers on the keyboard. This is really the most important one. If I get distracted, schedule other things, or simply don’t do the writing, then...I’m not doing the writing. And that’s my job. Of all the varied jobs I’ve held, I’m lucky and blessed to have this one I love.

What tips can you add?

An award-winning author of financial mysteries, Cathy Perkins writes twisting dark suspense and light amateur sleuth stories.  When not writing, she battles with the beavers over the pond height or heads out on another travel adventure. She lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.  Visit her at http://cperkinswrites.com or on Facebook 

Sign up for her new release announcement newsletter in either place.

She's hard at work on sequel to The Body in the Beaver Pond, which was recently presented with the Claymore Award.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Introducing a Puppy as a Character

By Kay Kendall

Several of my friends write successful mystery series that feature cats. This was something I had to get used to. I’m so allergic to felines that the mere mention of them causes my throat to close up. Okay, I admit I’m highly susceptible to suggestion and have a vivid imagination, but still . . . . Just as when I see on TV a whole barn full of hay (another serious allergen), my nerves get jumpy and my breathing gets wheezy.

For the past three years I’ve participated in a wonderful writing critique group that has two authors who work on cat-friendly tales. Over time I’ve seen how the inclusion of an animal can help a story. When the protagonist is caring for and communicating with one, the reader learns more about the person’s character. Besides, in the midst of the murder and mayhem of a crime novel, sometimes a touch of gentleness or levity is a welcome relief.
When I began to consider the plot of my third mystery, I decided to change things up. The major difference is the historical time. While my first two books in the Austin Starr mystery series are set in the late 1960s, this new book takes place in 1923, variously known as the Jazz Age (think about Jay “the Great” Gatsby) and Prohibition (hey there, Al Capone). I call After You’ve Gone a prequel since the main character is the grandmother of Austin Starr. They share an overriding curiosity and a love of solving puzzles. You can see that they have DNA in common, which becomes evident when they will solve murders together in the fourth mystery.
In 1923, this foremother of Austin is in her early twenties, just like Austin in Desolation Row and Rainy Day Women. Her name is Walter MacGregor (aka Wallie). She lives in a small town in Texas with her father, Walter, a judge, after whom she is named. The judge keeps hunting dogs in the back yard.
Ah-ha, I thought. Here’s an opportunity to add a pet for Wallie. I never considered cats—no surprise there. Since I’ve always lived with dogs and consider myself a “dog person,” that was an obvious pick. But my husband and I’ve had house rabbits for the past twenty years, and so I decided to give Wallie both a pet dog and a pet bunny.
My mind boggled. How would I swing that? Wouldn’t the puppy want to chase the bunny, at a minimum, and at the worst—oh no, we don’t go there! Anyway, I tried to include both animals in the story. The reaction from my writing group was swift and fierce. “That doesn’t work,” they all cried. And, alas, they were correct. One of those pets had to go.
That’s why when you pick up a copy of my new mystery, After You’ve Gone, you’ll find that Wallie MacGregor has a beagle puppy named Holler. He’s a young rascal and often gets into trouble, and when he does, lo and behold, he helps the plot. But Holler the pup never does talk to Wallie (as some animals do in some books). Nope, for me that is a bridge too far.
Meantime, my three house rabbits are talking to me, demanding equal time in my next book. We shall just have to wait and see about that.
Author Kay Kendall is eagerly anticipating the debut of her third mystery in February. She lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. 
Visit Kay at her website  http://www.austinstarr.com/  


Monday, January 14, 2019

Hearing is Believing

Recently, I stepping into a recording studio. Well, I stepped into the comfortable production room outside the actual recording booth.

All the Country Club Murders are on audio, but my input as to their production ended when I said, “Yes, I like her voice.” That voice, belonging to Callie Beaulieu, is now Ellison’s voice.

Recording Fields’ Guide to Abduction was a completely different experience.

A partner at Outpost Worldwide and I have been looking for an opportunity to work together for years. Poppy’s adventure was that opportunity. “I have a marvelous actress,” she told me.

And because I’ve seen Outpost Worldwide’s work, I believed her.

I met Cathy—heard Cathy—the morning we recorded. I gave her the briefest of character sketches then settled into a club chair. Cathy disappeared into a box with a glass door and settled earphones on her head.

Then she read—acted—the first chapter.

Cathy Barnett - the voice of Poppy Fields

I followed along in a word document.

And, wow. Poppy came alive.

Hearing Poppy and watching the people who sat on my side of the booth react—such fun.

Hearing them laugh—more fun.

Saying, “He’s a bad guy. You might want to make him sound less sympathetic”—beyond fun.

Especially when the villain, who sounds an awful lot Ricardo Montalbán from Fantasy Island, came alive, too.

We paused for things like pronunciation (Chariss rhymes with Paris), the odd bit of Spanish, and lunch.

It took two days. Two days when I learned more about the music words can make, about pausing for a laugh, and about character arc. 

Poppy will be available on audio sometime in the next few weeks. I'm counting the days!


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.

Friday, January 11, 2019

I'm on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride and I Don't Want to Get Off

I’m on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and I Don’t Want to Get Off by Debra H. Goldstein

The first time I rode Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a dark attraction at Disney, I loved it. It was fast paced, had quirky turns that led to unexpected encounters, and was fun. I look at everything to do with One Taste Too Many as being like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

In reviews, the book has been called suspenseful, fast paced, and edgier than most cozies. I think that’s because I tend to write a cozy that edges into the traditional mystery. I have the cat, small closed setting, cast of suspects, and murder off the page, but I also have numerous quirky turns and unexpected encounters. As in Mr. Toad’s Ride, where when intellectually I knew nothing would happen, out of a fright response, I put my hand up once or twice to avoid something touching my face or jumping out at me, there are red herrings and twists to keep readers on edge.

From the moment of One Taste Too Many’s launch, it has been a wild ride. Expected and unexpected reviews have been favorable and plentiful, blogs galore have appeared (forty-four plus, but whose is counting?), I had the delightful opportunity to write four blogs with one of my favorite writers, Barbara Ross, comparing our cooking styles (non-existent), settings (North and South), regional food, and showing what might happen if the characters from Steamed Open and One Taste Too Many met, and people have been genuinely kind and excited for me.

There is a lot of work involved with launching a book. I’m not particularly good at juggling PR duties with writing, and while I’m trying to move my work in progress along, I’m savoring every moment of my wild ride.  Thanks for being on it with me!

One Taste Too Many:

For culinary challenged Sarah Blair, there’s only one thing scarier than cooking from scratch—murder!
Sarah knew starting over would be messy. But things fall apart completely when her ex drops dead, seemingly poisoned by her twin sister’s award-winning rhubarb crisp. Now, with RahRah, her Siamese cat, wanted by the woman who broke up her marriage and her twin wanted by the police for murder, Sarah needs to figure out the right recipe to crack the case before time runs out. Unfortunately, for a gal whose idea of good china is floral paper plates, catching the real killer and living to tell about it could mean facing a fate worse than death—being in the kitchen 

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Whose got the herb when I'm dry? Who's got the Bluedream, I like? by Juliana @manyblankets

My husband's antler collection. 

Outside my living room window in Southern Colorado 2018
Dear Reader,

I survived the holidays but I caught a cold that turned into walking pneumonia. I'm still coughing at night but I feel lots better.

I'm listening to books on Audible and I love it. I can put on my Bluetooth headphones and listen while I work on downsizing my house.

I'm rereading books on writing and reading non-fiction books by Michelle Obama and journalists writing about the current condition of the country.

I'm also revising my novel after giving myself a long break from writing. I opened the notes from my dear friend who edited and critiqued it for me and realized I have work to do.

Never give up. Finish what you start. Believe in your characters and story. I'm honing my craft. I am looking forward to moving chapters around and killing my darlings. My original story idea made me do crazy things for the sake of being funny. I decided to take it more seriously and just tell the story.

I'm also stocking up on books by some of the Stiletto Gang and looking forward to reading or listening to the ladies mysteries.

I've been blessed with a wonderful family and friends and pets who adore me.

My comadres Maria Melendez Kelson and Aimee Medina Carr

Check out Aimee's blog and hear about her novel River of Love coming in Sept. 2010

Back to work. Until next time. Keep reading. Keep writing.