Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Turning Point with a Twist

The Unexpected Resolution, tenth in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, took a while to write. I wanted the characters to take their lives in a different direction, and that took some planning.

Along the way, as often happens in my books, the direction shifted. I don't outline my books, though I do start with a premise and a few major plot points. Then I jot ideas as I go.

Eventually, I get to a pause point. Some authors call it the muddled middle. I think of it as a fork in the writing road. I'll deliberately have a character ask a seemingly unanswerable question or get on a train (or in a car) without a certain destination.

While the character hangs in abeyance, my brain keeps working. In The Unexpected Resolution, a key character asks,“When Dad and me didn’t make it to the wedding, why didn’t you look for us?” I did know the answer to that question. The issue was how the groom would respond. There were several possibilities, and each would take a new relationship in a different direction. After a week or so, I picked the response I thought worked best.

Several longtime readers have asked if this will be the last book in the series. In a word (okay, two),  no way! In fact, at the end of "The Unexpected Resolution" you'll find the opening to book 11. (If you want to catch up on earlier books, visit

The Unexpected Resolution is available for preorder on Amazon, with a release date of July 25th.
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Friday, May 19, 2017

The Truth in Fiction: Guest Post by Sue Stewart Ade

          I invited Sue Stewart Ade, a member of the critique group I attend in Decatur, to share thoughts about her recent story, “Pumpkin Blossoms,” which appeared in Food and Romance Go Together. I’ve read Sue’s fiction and a memoir she is crafting, and wondered if she blended any of real life in her fiction. Turns out, she sometimes does. Let's hear from Sue.
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 I write fiction and memoir and love talking about writing. But I never thought about how much of my fiction was true until I was in Gulf Shores last winter and attended a book club. We were discussing a novel by a local author, and the woman next to me asked, “I wonder what parts of it are true?”

My first reaction was, “Well, it’s fiction, so it’s not true.” 

Then I thought about my own fiction, and parts of it are true. In fact, a lot of it is true!

In “Pumpkin Blossoms,” Jillian yearns for love and falls for a dog and her sister’s former boyfriend. But the dog bolts, and the boyfriend seems to still have feelings for her sister. So she goes about her summer, hoping for love, but prepared for what comes.

The opening scene has Jillian chasing a Saluki. The dog is based on a Saluki I saw on TV. His eyes were so sad, I just wanted to take him home. So I did, and named him Honda. But I didn’t realize how much love he would need before he trusted me—just like Jillian’s Honda.

When I started writing “Pumpkin Blossoms,” that experience popped into my head. That is what’s fun about writing. I’m not a planner. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I want to find out. So I try to set up my stories so the reader will want to know, too.

I like surprises. When I read a story I don’t want to suspect what’s going to happen. I want to keep turning the pages to find out. Of course, in a romance you’re always hoping the guy and the girl will get together.

Another part of the story is based on a college experience. I came back to my apartment one day to find my roommate, who was in a wheelchair, in her bedroom, crying. She cried the entire day. Later, I learned that was the date she was in a car wreck and lost her parents—and the use of her legs.

The pain of her experience informed my feelings as I wrote about Jillian’s’s loss of her parents.

As I writer, I also dig into why a memory is important. In “Pumpkin Blossoms,” Jillian and Honda are wounded souls. Both are healed by love.

The story’s pumpkin blossom are also based on reality. My husband plants pumpkins, but he picks the blossoms to cook and eat. The title also refers to Jillian being called Pumpkin by her dad. 

My advice to other writers is to use your memories. Then the question I love is, “What if.”

“What if” the memory happened a different way? Let your mind explore until you hit on the “ah-ha” moment.

I used to think fiction and memoir were opposite genres, but the more I write, the more I realize they are not so different. A good story is still a good story—whether it’s truth or fiction.
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“Pumpkin Blossoms” appeared in Food and Romance Go Together, an anthology published in May by Satin Romance, an imprint of Melange Books, LLC. Learn more about Sue Ade by reading Friends Forever (romantic suspense) or visiting To show food and romance really do go together, check out these crunchy fried pumpkin flowers. They make a great summer starter.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Books that Stay in the Drawer

Writers hone their skills in many ways. Tried and true, of course, is write consistently.

I'm not sure if writing prompt exercises are bigger now than a few years ago, or if I didn't pay attention to the activities. Not saying my ideas are always good, but enough pop up at odd times that I don't go looking for them.

At one Midwest Writers' Workshop, an author said that when she gets stuck or isn't sure of the direction to go, she does a 'what if' exercise. Generally it's something unexpected or off the wall. In the context of what I write, that could be something such as, "What if [one of my amateur sleuths] got offered a job that tied her to a desk?" Or maybe, "What would happen if instead of a finding a belt in the closet, Jolie's fingers wrapped around a snake?"

I used the "what if" scenario at the end of one book when I wasn't satisfied that clues for the murderer were subtle enough. Wandering through my mind was the thought, "What if so-and-so was the murderer instead?" A bunch of things fell into place, and I changed the killer.

The idea must have been in my subconscious all along, because it was a seamless rewrite. When people say they didn't figure out the killer until the very end, I don't say neither did I. But it's tempting.

No matter how much a book's direction changes, some of them aren't meant to find an audience. I worked for two years on a 100,000-word story that is a cross between a thriller and a traditional mystery. And therein was the problem. Readers searching the shelves are looking for a thriller or a traditional mystery.

So, though I keep the three-inch folder, I'm about ready to toss it. I came to that conclusion because this spring it's twenty years since I finished the book. High time to head to the landfill. (No, not recycling. I don't want to risk inflicting that plot on an unsuspecting reader.)

I know a number of authors who have books they never tried to publish, or those that an agent or editor said wasn't salvageable. I call these learning books. A wise friend wrote five before she thought her skills were good enough to send the sixth to a publisher. That book was immediately accepted. She learned well.

Perhaps those who've completed learning books are writers who didn't get a creative writing degree. I took English and journalism courses (and wrote dozens of nonfiction reports), but writing fiction used very different skills. There is no reason to think we "know how to write" just because we know how to present cogent thoughts.

If you're working on that first book, check out my post on What to Read When You Want to Write. In fact, the first book on the list (Jane Cleland's Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot) won the Agatha this year for best nonfiction. Well worth your time. You might end up with fewer books in that drawer.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Malice Domestic Conversations

When writers get together you can count on stories -- the ones they are writing and their perspectives on books, life, and whatever waltzes through their minds. This week's Malice Domestic Conference in Bethesda, MD was no exception.

On the topic of humor in murder mysteries -- a.k.a. how do you get a laugh out of death? Nancy West notes while death is never funny, how people act afterwards can be. Think funeral scenes. I can never read a Janet Evanovich book without anticipating Grandma Mazur's antics to try to pry into a closed casket.

Since two of my series are set in farm country, in Iowa and Illinois, I was especially interested in the panel on Rural Murder. Stephanie Jayne Evans put things in perspective with a Sherlock Holmes quote "Most evil can be done privately when there is no one around to watch." Also on that panel was Shannon Baker, who has a particularly alert friend. She is always on the lookout for places that Shannon could hide a body.

I got a kick out of Ray Wenck on the Unusual Cops panel. "I am quirky. Just ask any of the voices in my head."

Three new vocabulary words came from the panel "Extra! Extra! Newshouds and Murder." The mix of former print and video reporters even noted varied spellings.
Lede (print) and lead (television): opening paragraph of a story
Nut: core of the story.
Kicker or reefer: end of the piece. Lots of comments on the reefer term, of course.

Molly MacRae talks conflict.
The panel "Oh, to be in Britain" had a great discussion of conflict as the key to drama. Among the ways Molly MacRae builds it are: have people operate at cross purposes, create misperceptions, and have a character ask one question and the respondent answer a a different one.

Leslie Meier had examples of causes of conflict in small towns: tension between new ways and entrenched operations, simmering resentment, and having characters act differently than their role in town would lead people to expect.

As in several panels, an audience member asked whether authors sometimes base a character on a real person, or how they hide the fact if they do so. G.M. Maillet had a great response. She uses the Mr. Potato Head School of Writing. A character trait may come from one person, coloring from another, and so on.

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Friday, April 7, 2017

Join a Group of Writers - Even if You Aren't Published

I've heard some writers say that when they walk into a library, they think 'why do I bother?' True, there are hundreds of thousands of books published each year. My perspective is that readers always want more, so your book can join the shelves.

What keeps me enthusiastic, even during slow writing periods, is spending time with
other writers.

I’ve been fortunate to live in three states – Maryland, Iowa, and Indiana – that had active local and regional writers’ organizations. They host conferences, workshops, and less formal events. Even when I had a busy day job, I took many courses and had a group of peers without looking far.

In Illinois, not so much, but I keep looking. If you can't find groups of writers, join a book club. Every library has at least one. It can be fiction or nonfiction. At least you will be with people who like to talk about good writing.

You don’t need to join any groups – you don’t even need to tell friends you are working on a book or trying to place articles in magazines. If your schedule is chock full of work and family responsibilities, a local or regional writing organization could seem like a chore. As in all aspects of creativity, there are no 'shoulds.'

If a Google search for local groups and queries at the library don't turn up local writing groups, think about Twitter.
Twitter lets you make lists of other users – I have them for mystery writers, cozy mystery writers, Iowa writers, and many more.

Wherever I move (three times in ten years), I go through the Twitter lists I've created to see which people noted where they lived. It takes a while, but I find nearby writers (even if not in my town) and establish email relationships. I eventually meet them.

We aren't talking about stalking here, just friendly self-introductions. If you get no response, you haven't lost anything but a few minutes of your time.


Professional writing organizations exist for every genre. Dues are usually $100 or less. Most have newsletters, some sponsor magazines. You learn a lot and get a better sense of who writes in your genre and which publishers are best for your kind of writing.

A lot of groups, such as Sisters in Crime, lead you to members who live in your area.
(Assuming they have agreed to be listed in the members-only section of SINC's web page.) Even if a national organization does not publish a member list, a call or email to the national office may garner local names.
I generally go to conferences within a couple hundred miles, so I don’t incur big travel expenses. Or I find one near my extended family, so no hotel bills. (Thank goodness for family and friends.)

When you go to a conference, there’s usually a list of attendees that shows where they live. Voila – you’ve found local people. In fact, I was invited into my wonderful critique group in Illinois because I’d met some of the members at the Midwest Writers Workshop in Muncie, Indiana.

Finding other writers isn’t as hard as finding a new job, but if you don’t live in a town with an existing organization, the hunt does take concerted effort. If you have limited time to write, perhaps that has to be your only focus. Spending time with other writers can come later.

Whatever feels right for you works for you. If you do reach out, you’ll probably find other writers willing to share their experiences.


Writer’s Digest Annual Best Websites for Writers
Some are websites only, some are affiliated with organizations. This is a link to one year’s list. (Because it's a PDF file, you probably need to cut and paste the link.)

Romance Writers of America (RWA) is the largest writers’ membership organization. It also has chapters throughout the country.

Sisters in Crime (open to sisters and misters, with active local chapters).
The email monthly SINC Links is worth the reasonable membership fee.

Writers, Agents and Editors Network. Website founded by Jeff Hermann. Hard to categorize this website, but it brings a lot of people together online.
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Check out Elaine Orr's web page, or her online classes, or sign up for her newsletter

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Reviewing a Book Draft on Your Phone or Kindle

When I'm writing, I do a lot of things to imagine the words as a reader will perceive them. Sure, you can read them aloud or change the font size on your computer. Anything that lets an author take a step back from the original manuscript is a good thing.

A couple of years ago I began sending finished drafts (yes, an oxymoron) to my Kindle. The point was to spot typos -- boy did I. I also spotted some inconsistencies -- referring to a day as sunny and in the next chapter having a character grab an umbrella or avoid puddles.

Before a knee replacement a couple of years ago, I was bemoaning not having finished a first draft before going in the hospital. My plan had been to 'let it sit' while I pushed recovery. No way could I take a computer (or even a 200-page draft) to the hospital.

Light bulb time. I could send the draft to my Kindle, which I did plan to take. The draft would appear on my phone, too, because I had the Kindle app. How to do this, you ask?

Some basic info -- you may know it, or may not. At, scroll to the bottom of the page, and look for Manage Content and Devices. Click on it.
You will usually see the content screen -- a list of every item downloaded from Amazon. You can sort it by most recent, by title, or author. (Sorry for the small image, but at least it gives a sense of what the screen will look like.)

Near the left it says 'Show' and in a drop-down menu it will say 'Books,' which is the image you see here. Click on that drop-down and change it to 'Documents.' Since you probably haven't sent any, there may not be a list.

First Steps in Adding Documents

1) You will email a document (Word, pdf, rtf, jpg, for example) to the Kindle, but it has to be sent from an email address you have designated. Otherwise, you could get spam email later. The email associated with your Kindle account is already designated. If you want to get files from friends or another email of your own, do the following:

  a) At Manage Content and Devices, click on Settings (top right).
  b) Scroll down to Personal Document Settings. The third item under it is Approved Personal Email List. This shows the emails you've said can send you documents.
  c) To add an email, click on Add a New Approved Email Address.
  d) After you add the address, the "Add Address" button will be highlighted. Click it and you're done.

2 ) Everyone has a 'free Kindle' address. In fact, you have one for any device you have registered to receive Kindle books -- Kindles, Nooks, personal computers, phones. Nook you say? You can put the Kindle App on any device that lets you add Apps.

  a) Back at 'Manage Content and Devices,' in the middle of the page is the word 'devices.' Click on it. (The same list is also at Settings/Personal Document Settings.)

You should see a list in the order in which you added devices - Kindles, phones, PCs, etc. My list starts with Elaine's 2nd Kindle, since I broke my first one within a week. Amazon has named these (at least in my case), and the titles are pretty basic. Elaine's Android Device, Elaine's Kindle Fire.

  b) Click in the drop down box next to a device name, and a larger box appears. It has your device serial number and an email address associated with the device -- ending with Amazon also designated these email addresses.

Voila -- you have the address to send files (PDF, some word processing formats, jpeg) to your Kindle or phone. If you want to see your draft book and its cover, send the cover's jpeg file separately. If you have multiple devices, make sure you use the correct email address.

If you have not added the Kindle App to phone (or whatever), Google "download Kindle App" and you'll find a link.

Add Documents to a Kindle or Phone

1) Save your book (or course outline or speech) as a Word or PDF file. I strongly suggest Word, so you can make notes in the document as you read it.

2) Open your email program, and in the 'send' line put the Kindle address.

3) Attach the document to the email. Don't bother writing yourself a note. The content of the email does not come through, only the attachment.

4) Send the email. It generally gets to the Kindle pretty fast.

5) Make sure you have a Wi Fi or other Internet connection. (The documents usually download automatically. If they aren't there, wait a couple of minutes when you are in the Kindle App and it should appear. If it does not, go back to Manage Content and Devices and make sure you sent it to the device you are using.)

**** You need a connection. If you are going camping, download before you leave, or at a WiFi hot spot.

6) Go to your Kindle. (Other devices in step 6a.) Across the top of your screen is a ribbon that says things like books, web, and documents. Click on documents. The list usually has most recent items first. Documents will appear as a white item with text only

6a) On the device to which you emailed the document (your phone, for example), open the Kindle App. On my Android phone, a list of books and documents appears. Your new file should be one of the first things you see. It will appear as a white item with text only -- no book cover. (Note: Not all non-Kindle devices may operate the same way. If you don't see your file, make sure books and documents are not in separate places on the App.)

Can You Edit the Document? 

You can add highlights and make notes. When I read a draft, I sometimes just highlight a typo. It will be obvious when I see it again.

How do you add a highlight or note? Put your finger or stylus over the word (or words) that interest you.

A box appears. It has different highlight colors, or you can add a note. Click on note and rewrite the text. I don't usually write the new sentence. I tell myself "fix verb," or "overused word." Whatever.

You can of course buy word processing apps. I would never do that because I do my own formatting for Kindles, Nooks, etc. Changing devices can add heartache when you try to create a clean copy to upload later.

If you don't want to add notes in the document, you can make notes on a pad. When I have an early draft I often do that. Just add a couple of words from the text so that when you go back to the Word file you can search for those words and find the spot you want to change.

The Biggest Advantage

You always have a draft to read if you end up in a long line at the grocery store or stuck in traffic. I've also sent to-do lists, lists of kids' sizes if I'm buying holiday or birthday presents, recipes (if I'm traveling and don't want to carry paper), and more.

Items can be removed. If you send information you need temporarily or don't want to share with anyone who opens your Kindle (like a list of medicines) you can delete it. Go back to Manage Content and Devices, click on the box next to the document name, and click delete.

Important to me, I don't have to carry a heavy laptop or 200-page paper draft. Think of the trees saved, to say nothing of your back.
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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Managing Time to Write

I have a confession to make. I would get a lot more written if I were more methodical in the time of day that I write. I do work on fiction most days. If I'm not writing, I'm thinking about it. That counts as work.

What I don't do is get up, make a cup of coffee, and write. No distractions, just get that 2,000 words in before 9 AM.

I have excuses. We don't have expanded cable, so the only time I can watch the news is 7 AM or 5:30 PM (in the Midwest). So what? Will the world change if I don't watch? It was so easy when I had a small TV with a VCR in it. I have no idea how to use recording capability within the cable system. Probably means I don't have the capability.

I budgeted my time better when I had a day job. In a leadership course long ago, the teacher said, "If you think you manage time better when you have a deadline to meet, it simply means you don't manage your work well the rest of the time."

Bottom line, I need to carve more regular writing time. I can create blocks of time. Others have to write in chunks, which is a bigger challenge. Authors do it. This is from John Grisham’s bio: 

Getting up at 5 AM every day to get in several hours of writing time before heading off to work, Grisham spent three years on A Time to Kill and finished it in 1987. Initially rejected by many publishers, it was eventually bought by Wynwood Press, who gave it a modest 5,000 copy printing and published it in June 1988. 

That might have put an end to Grisham’s hobby. However, he had already begun his next book [The Firm], and it would quickly turn that hobby into a new full-time career—and spark one of publishing’s greatest success stories.

Hmm. 5 AM.  Lately I've started waking up about then. I consider it a curse. I wonder if it would do any good to put the coffee maker next to my bed, and have it primed to drip?

Psychologists say a person is more likely to keep a resolution if they tell people about it. Here goes: I am going to begin writing within one hour of getting up each morning.

If anyone else is considering changing their writing time (or working it into an already-busy schedule), here are a couple of good blog posts I found.

How to Find Time to Write, by Melissa Tydell 

Finding the Time to Write, Linda Rafferty for Writer’s Digest blog
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