Friday, October 15, 2021

Positive Delay Tactics --- Maybe

I believe that the best way to write enough to publish is just to keep writing. Well, duh. What does that mean?

Ideas for stories come fairly easily. What does not come eaily is bringing those ideas to fruition in a story that matteres -- and all good stories matter, whether they deal with a serious topic or something that may be thought of as frivilous.

Sometimes you reach a point and realize a story has nowere to go. It's buried in the "maybe later" file and you go on to something else. If that happens too often, it may mean your "keep your buns in a chair" gene is not working properly. My gene has been known to wander.

Writers have different indicators for when a story is stalled. We may:

  • Have characters repeat (to another character, or while ruminating) recent action. As if repetition will clarify where what should come next.
  • Start a new chapter or scene with a phrase such as, "The next day dawned bright/cloudy..." Moving action forward without showing the transition because, well, how did we get there?
  • Have characters deal with daily life beyond what's needed to move the story along. Mindless activity may help an author think, but it loses readers.
  • And the tried and true distraction, clean something in one's own home.

I used to place characters on a bus or train. In Falling Into Place, I have the grandpa accompany a sick child home from school on a city bus -- because he wasn't sure what they'd do when they got to his place.

In Toxic Traces (which will never see the light of day) I put several characters on the D.C. subway. As if that would get to the next plot point. In both cases, I took long breaks from the stories as the characters got their bearings.

These were early books. Now I know I can't stop. I always have ideas for scenes, so I'll write a few paragraphs or pages even if I don't know how they'll fit into the story. I generally use the scene in some way, but even if I don't, the process of putting pen to paper has continued. 

Of course, those who outline carefully before starting ChapterOne will say, "See, this is why you outline." I do make notes as I start and along the way, but I'm way too impatient to outline. One of these days a diversion will waste too much valuable time. In the meantime, I enjoy the ride.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or sign up for her newsletter

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Balancing Murder and Family

Balancing murder and family is a true skill -- as long as you aren't thinking about killing someone you're related to.

The 12th book in the Jolie Gentil series is underway: working title is "Sticky Fingered Books." Among the many facets of their lives. Jolie handles ordering food for the day care center their four-year old twins attend and Scoobie runs a poetry group for the kids.

Say what? Kids like to rhyme, and Scoobie is a natural clown. Most kids like clowns, as long as the make-up is friendly.

These activities are fine, but readers pick up a mystery to find out how a crime gets solved. They like some excitement along the way and a bit of humor is almost expected now.

As characters evolve, readers may come to care about them, their friends, and families. But not  if a good murder mystery takes a back seat. 

Another key factor is the amount of danger parents would put themselves in to solve a crime. Pretty dumb for a female sleuth to set her husband and kids up to be without her. Ditto for daddy.

Then there is the question of aging the kids. Mine are twins (Lance and Leah) because I find it easier to manage (in a book at least) two kids of similar age rather than a single kid. Much less need to entertain them, and more opportunity for humor. 

Mine entered the stories at age three and are now four. I don't believe they will age much more, for several reasons. Early thirties is okay for how I see Jolie and Scoobie. Forties not so much. Too staid.

The biggest reason to keep them young is that as they aged some older characters would eventually have to die. That or live to be 100+ and eat only soft food. Neither appeals to me, and I think readers would bombard me with bad reviews if Aunt Madge died.

I've written several other books since the 11th (Underground in Ocean Alley). In retrospect, one reason I've avoided #12 is addressing the kid factor. Now, it's time.

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Sunday, September 19, 2021

Talk Like a Pirate Day is Here Again

     I'm not sure why this eclectic annual event tickles my fancy. Perhaps because it's just so....odd.

    If you are a fan of Talk Like a Pirate Day, make sure to greet your friends appropriately. Shiver me timbers, look who's here. Ahoy, maties. 

    I grew fond of the September 19th holiday when searching for an event to use as a fictional fundraiser for the food pantry in the Jolie Gentil mystery series. Any Port in a Storm developed around the theme, and it may have been the most fun book to write.

    Scoobie was able to find humor in all aspects of the day. Here is one of his pirate limericks.

A pirate charms, that's not new.

Me ladies he said, what to do?

Said the wench this is fun

But from spouse I must run

Or t'will be no chance for a screw.

Jolie's comment? "Not exactly PG-13, is it?" 

    Part of the planning for the event entailed coming up with a list of things people would pay 25 cents to do. (It's a fundraiser, remember?) The list was single-spaced, and included items sure to offend any group. 

  • Talk like a pirate
  • Talk like a grouchy pirate
  • Pretend you are a dead pirate
  • Fart like a pirate
  • Act like a girl pirate (if you are a boy)
  • Act like a boy pirate (if you are a girl)
  • Act like an androgynous pirate (if you aren't sure what you are)
  • Walk like a fat pirate.
  • Show your junk like a pirate
  • Drink from your tankard like a pirate
  • Walk the plank like a pirate
  • Not walk the plank like a pirate
  • Stop talking like a pirate
All this and a murder, too. The book is on all sites, and is included in a Kindle Unlimited box set that's free until September 20th. Enjoy!

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Sunday, September 12, 2021

When You Can't Get a Book Out of Your Mind

Most of us have at least a few books that stick with us. When we know why, it's easier to select other books to read.

Robert Harris Pompeii comes to mind fairly often. As you might guess, the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius plays a role, and we know how that transpires, right? So, no big surprises.

The novel Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides has a secondary character always referred to as "Chapter Eleven." (You can guess the context.) I listen to audiobooks almost dayly. Every time the narrator announces Chapter Eleven I think of Middlesex.

More recently I listened to Tess Gerritsen's The Bone Garden. I'd advise reading rather than listeneing if you are at all squeamish -- but I never wanted to turn off the CD player.

Of course, these have compelling characters and plots that "matter." I generally don't enjoy character studies or family sagas, in which dramatic action (in the sense of conflic) is less prominent.

All three of "my" books deal with hsitorical events, Middlesex and The Bone Garden do so from current times, Pompeii is set in 79 AD. I love to read about prominent past events in fiction -- not necessarily as historical fiction.

All three have elements of science, Gerritsen and Eugenides use medicine and Harris' employs geology and water.

I borrow nearly all of the books I read from the library. After reading Pompeii, I bought a copy. Must be my favorite.

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Friday, August 27, 2021

Rethinking a Character's Past

I read a blog post today on Writers Helping Writers that contained this sentence. 

"Before randomly choosing a trauma from the past, think about who your character is and how this trauma could make their story journey more difficult for them. Get really curious about this."

I often think about my characters' past lives. Sometimes I'll have a page or two of notes for a relatively minor character. It's the only way (for me) to have a character act purposefully rather than just doing something I need them to do to move the story along.

For the characters in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, they had met for one year in high school and then again nearly a decade later. I had mapped out a number of their high school interactions so they could refer to them as adults.

Slowly I began to realize that those experiences really had shaped who they became as adults, I just hadn't done it intentionally. So I wrote a prequel, and as it evolved I learned a lot more about the adults they became. And they'd already appeared in six books!

A traumatic incident affected Jolie and Scoobie greatly -- in opposite ways. I suppose that makes sense -- easy and fun situations shape most people less than something dramatic (good or bad).

As a result of the prequel (written years ago) I have a character in the wings waiting for a spot in another book. Life does have its connections.

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Thursday, August 26, 2021

Looking for Free Books?

 Is your Kindle or Nook overflowing with unread books? If not, here are some good ways to find a few.

1) At Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Google, Smashwords, etc., put in search items such as, "Free mysteries" or "free science fiction." Some will appear (usually more on Amazon). Once you've clicked on a freebie, see if the site shows its ranking vis a vis other free ones in that category. That could send you to a list of top free books in a genre.

2) On Facebook there are a number of groups for free books. Try:

Free Kindle Books  (1) Free Kindle Books! | Facebook

Free Books  (1) FREE BOOKS!! | Facebook 

Free PDF Books  (1) Free PDF Books Download | Facebook (You can read these on a computer without a Kindle or Nook.)

Free and Bargain Ebooks -- Kindle, Nook, Kobo, ibooks and more. (1) Free & Bargain Ebooks - Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iBooks & More! | Facebook

3) Book Bub. This site sends a weekly email with bargain and free books. There used to be more free ones, but each week there are a few, and some of the bargain books are good deals. You don't have to wait for an email, go to BookBub for daily deals.

I'll keep adding to this post. All ideas are welcome!

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Saturday, August 14, 2021

Deciding Where to Blog

Blogging can be a useful tool to present opinions, share information, or attract people who want to read about something you produce -- books, crafts, consulting advice, etc. Blogs can simply be fun, too.

Since late 2011, I've blogged about writing, family history, book marketing, and whatever suits my fancy. I decided many years ago to write a quality product and not worry about whether my articles are read 500 or 2,000 times per month. If you want to acquire paid advertising for a blog, that matters. Otherwise, don't worry about it.

The first decision will be where to host a blog, I looked at Blogger ( and WordPress ( 

WordPress has more templates and is said to be better equipped for commerce. I had trouble figuring out how to set up a blog there. Since 30% of the world’s bloggers use it, the problem was clearly mine. (I've since had help in transferring my webside to WordPress, and could blog there. However, since this blog is well-established, I simply reference it on my website.)

A second choice will probably be whether to “self-host,” which means buying a domain name to place with Blogger or WordPress (or another site). In so doing, you are essentially creating a website (and probably paying to host it) and using the site as a blog. 

People who advocate self-hosting point out that you will own your content and it will be harder to steal it. I would suggest these two reasons may not be crucial. You own your writing unless you give the copyright to someone else, and anyone can copy and paste what you write, no matter where you post a blog.

The advantage to self-hosting (a.k.a. buying a domain and paying a website host) could be better capability to add videos, sell products, and add plugins. There are likely more advantages, and you can read about them at different hosting sites. I plan to keep writing books rather than learn more about blogging.

I'm happy with my free site at Blogger, which Google hosts. The hardest thing for me is remembering to write a post three times a month. You'll see I started strong, waned, and am now more consistent.

Content matters most. Wherever you place your blog, I suggest an index, organized by broad topics. You can get to the index to Irish Roots Author by clicking that link at the top left of this page. Have a look.

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Saturday, July 31, 2021

Making Books Starred Favorites

Occasionally I wish I'd done something differently in a book, but mostly I like what I write. Readers (and reviewers) seem to appreciate them, too. So why don't I have 1,000 reviews for each book?

I don't work hard enough to seek reviews. It's a process that builds, and I need to make the foundation stronger.

With most emails to newsletter readers, I mention that authors love reviews and I would appreciate theirs. But, I rarely reach out to individuals.When I first published the Jolie series in 2011, friends, former neighbors, and work colleagues were quick to read Appraisal for Murder and many offered reviews. Perhaps it made me compacent.

If I had paid more attention the next year, I would have modeled my behavior on author Karen Musser Nortman. She emailed me to say Amazon indicated people who read her books also read mine.Would I consideer reading and reviewing one of hers? Sure. 

What I Do 

1) Offer review copies to those on my email list. 

2) Remind people they no longer need to write a recommendation on most book review sites. They can simply give a book the starts they believe it deserves.

4) Spend a little money giving away paperbacks or ebooks. 

5) Introduce readers to Smashwords, an aggregator, which lets me provide coupons for free books. I give newsletter recipients a short lesson in how to do this, because sometimes people worry they might still get charged.

6) Ask readers to leave reviews (or stars) on sites beyond Amazon, especially Goodreads. Millions of readers look to Goodreads for recommendations. (Note: Amazon bought Goodreads a few years ago, but review rules are less strict than on the retail site.)

7) Rotate books as freebies. After a book has been out for a long time, reviews slow or pretty much stop. This year, I began periodically offering books in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series for free for a month on Amazon and all sites. This can garner 50-75 reviews -- from more than a few thousand downloads. A few are three stars, but most are four and five-star reviews (or simply stars). Again, these are older books. I want people to buy the new ones. Added reviews do lead to more sales later.

Some Things Not to Do

1) Don't ask people in your household to write reviews, even if they are not relatives. Websites can tell you use the same Internet ISP, and the reviews will be removed.

2) Don't ask the same people to review every book. Amazon may see patterns and remove what they believe to be "friend reviews." Other sites do less of this.

3) Don't imply people can give you a review even if they haven't read a book. It is not a personal endorsement of you, it's a way for potential readers to learn something. 

Things I Recently Learned

The Indie Author Project recently presented a webinar with James Schwartz who gave good advice on seeking reviews. While this was free, he also has a firm that (for fees) can help with many aspects of self-publishing.

1) For new books (or older ones with new editions) ask up to ten people per week to do a review. Schwartz suggests contacting people who have reviewed similar books or are in Goodreads groups that feature books like yours.

2) Develop a common "ask" note to modify for the requests.That will reduce the workload.

3) Track the requests and their results. Not everyone who- agrees to review can follow through, so you you may not want to send them a free book or coupon the next time around.

4) Recognize that a bad review is beneficial because it may keep some people from reading the book and leaving their own bad review. This was the most surprising point of the seminar (to me), and it makes sense.

Things I Should "Know Better" and Do Consistently

Sometimes I kick myself for not being more persistent, about many aspects of marketing. Make no mistake, bringing in book reviews is marketing. I want to write, not market.

1) Wait a few extra weeks before releasing a new book. I go through my wonderful critique group, work with beta readers, and pay a proofreader. But I don't allow enough time to send advance review copies (ARCs) to potential reviewers. Doing this means more reviews the first week a book is released.

2) Use local media. I used to drop copies of new books with all local print media and send press releases to radio and TV stations. For some reason, I do less of this. (Chalk it up to working on new books immediately.) I've moved several times in the last few years, which means I have few personal media contacts. Too bad, just do it.

3) When people on a newsletter list ask for review copies, go to them for all other books. (You can ask if this will be okay.) I put these requests in an email folder, but have not always gone back to them.

4) Ask people who review similar books to review mine. It can be hard to find contact information, so if  I can't, I'll move on. People in sales say the most important perspective is "next." 

Seek Reviews Even if You Work with a Publisher

A larger publisher will send review copies well in advance of publication. Yay! They may even pay the fees for review in Publisher's Weekly or Kirkus. Big yay!

However, you still need to work your networks and ask readers for reviews. Publishers have lots of authors and limited marketing budgets. At some point, they need to move on. Coordinate with the publisher, of course.

I'll report back on results in a few months. Feel free to offer your own ideas.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or sign up for her newsletter

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Shared Experiences and "Do You Remember" Discussions

The other day, my husband asked me if I remembered the television show Bonanza. I immediately began to sing the theme song, a rhythmic beat that almost mimics pounding horse hooves. My immediate response brought to mind the relevance of shared culture in entertainment.

I like living in a world of "unshared cultures" -- new things to learn, new foods to try. But shared experiences (even if only through common media) can be fun. The "do you remember" familiarity among friends.

How does this relate to books, more specifically, to writing them?

I constanly think about whether readers will 'get' idioms or understand a reference. If a character says something is "bupkes," a reader may know the term -- especially if their father was born in 1915 and used it (as mine did). If they've never heard the word, they might get it from context. 

Unfamiliar terms or references to little-known events give readers pause. You don't want to make them stop and say "huh" too often. By the same token, you don't want to write to the person with the most limited vocabulary.

It's More than Word Choices

In the 1980s, a popular organizational training video discussed the idea that your frame of reference was established by your environment in roughly your teenage years. "Who you are now depends on where you were when." We referred to them as the Massey Tapes, and I just looked them up. The presenter was a man names Morris Massey, and he still does motivational speaking.

The theory was that we see the world from our teenage lenses -- not just our personal experiences but what was going on in society around us. We'll pretty much always do that unless what Mr. Massey termed a "significant emotional event" changes some aspects of our perspective. 

Mind you, I'm talking about this from memory, but I believe it's a fair recollection of the Massey philosophy.

If you grew up in an area that was culturally diverse when you were young (not as uncommon now), you were used to people of different races holding hands or to hearing many languages in the grocery store. I grew up in the DC metro area. The Giant grocery store was like a mini-UN. 

I went to college in an area not as racially diverse and it was...weird. Now, think of the reverse.  If you went from small-town Midwest to Chicago, DC, or New York, you'd wonder what happened to a sense of shared culture. It isn't racist or any other bias. It's just getting used to a lot of differences.

If you stay in the larger city, you eventually realize you don't need to be "alike" to enjoy the same activities. Humor may take a little longer, and you may not regularly eat the same foods or read the same books. But you appreciate the differences.

I think about this as I write mystery series in very different settings. The vocabulary and humor in my Jersey shore mysteries (the Jolie Gentil series) are different than than in the stories set in rural Iowa, along the Des Moines River (the River's Edge series). Especially the analogies and metaphors.

In the Iowa series, I could refer to someone a bit different as a volunteer (a reference to a tall cornstalk amid a bean field). In New Jersey, that would be as unfamiliar as speaking Swahili.

Still, common media bring us together. Not everyone watches reality shows, but people everywhere (in the U.S.) know the TV show Jeaopardy and make jokes about it. Millions of people also commiserated about Alex Trebek's illness, and auditions for his replacement are even noted on television news shows

I've digressed from Bonanza, but I like where my thoughts wandered. I think I'll ask my husband if he remembers the theme song from Cheers.

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Thursday, July 15, 2021

My Web Page Enters the 21st Century

What could keep an author from posting for more than two weeks? Marathon sessions to recreate her webpage, which I believe I began building in about 1999,

The initial design was busy and used a builder that didn't lend to a modern look. I had postponed an upgrade because it is soooo hard for me to learn new technologies. I should not have waited so long.

However, I've learned more about my writing, and can now describe it better. As you'll see, I have much more to learn, but now has a clean look. I like it.

Why Now?

The redesign did not happen on purpose. First I had bad luck, then very good luck. My host (who will remain nameless because I won't give them publicity) cancelled the proprietary software they provided. No email warning. They said if I had logged into the host panel I would have seen announcements. 

Why would I do that? I write books and update a webpage. I only go into the panel to pay my bill. (Make that past tense.)

I bit the bullet and transferred my hosting contract to WordPress, which I've never been able to learn. Bought two books. Still could not do more than title a page. There's a certain amount of operator error, but I just don't find WordPress intuitive.

Here's the very good luck. I posted a note on my church Facebook page, and a wonderful friend stepped up. She taught me a lot, but also did a good portion of the design and template building. And gently corrected my mistakes. 

She introduced me to Elementor, a developer tool specifically for WordPress. I can do enough to be dangerous, so to speak.

Learning New Technology

Learning new software has never been easy for me, but I usually jump in. I bought a Toshiba laptop when they had 50K (yes, K, not even megabytes) of memory. You loaded (and used) software on floppy discs. I think this was the late 1980s. (Yes, I'm old. Seventy next month. Going strong.)

I could absorb new software because I worked a lot for a nonprofit, and they graciously let contractors attend training when they bought new software. They also had very patient staff two generations younger than I who answered questions. Even if asked three times. 

Repetition is my personal key to learning new software, but now I work alone. I may find a course about WordPress or Elementor. I need to keep learning.

The personal aspect of learning new things works best for those of us (at least me) who memorized multiplication tables in the days before calculators.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Starting with Jolie's New 'Normal' World

In reading K.M. Weiland's materials on structuring a novel, I appreciated her concept of the protagonist's 'normal' world. A writer doesn't have to present the ins and outs of a character's universe, but she has to fully understand them before the novel's events can disrupt them. 

As we near the 10th anniversary of publication of the first Jolie Gentil mystery (more on that later), I'm starting the 12th book in the series. It will join a prequel, novella, and a long short story. And since it's been months since I wrote any of those, I'm making a new list of Jolie and Scoobie's normal world.

So much has changed. Jolie entered Aunt Madge's Ocean Alley Cozy Corner B&B as a woman who recently separated from an embezzeler husband who'd stolen from her as well as others. Can you say jaded? 

Some readers didn't like her. They said she was self-centerred. Well...yes. A lot of people who've been hurt badly can be self-focused. She made some dumb mistakes and evolved. 

Her early normal (in the series) was as a single real estate appraiser getting reacquanted with old friends, making new ones, and being dragged into volunteer work at the food pantry. Turns out she excels at bossing people around for a good cause.

Jolie is still a real estate appraiser, but now is married with two kids, helps run the B&B, and continues to manage Harvest for All Food Pantry. That's a rough sketch of her current normal, but thinking through subtle aspects is more complex.

For example, I chose a career that could interest women and men, and had her involved in things such as local economic development and concern for those who may need extra help. But those are asides as she solves mysteries. Readers aren't looking for perspectives on town activities or empathy. They have to be subtle.

While I find her four-year old twins hysterical, their role can't predominate or I'll lose readers with no interest in kids. In addition, favorite characters are Aunt Madge and Scoobie, so normal needs to include clear roles for them. Especially since Aunt Madge has recently been elected mayor of Ocean Alley.

Once 'normal' is clear, what could disrupt it enough to add solving a mystery to her already busy schedule?

I'd love to hear thoughts on what Jolie and Scoobie's everyday routine could include. I've learned a great deal from readers' comments. I can always absorb more.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Drawing History Into the Mystery

 It's no secret that my Family History Mystery Series deals with a mix of current and past crimes. Sleuth Digger Browning is an avid family historian living in the Western Maryland mountains. 

I've enjoyed learning more about the region's history, but had to do much of it remotely because the entire series (so far) has been written during the pandemic. I lived in Maryland (near DC) until my early forties, and have often driven or taken the train through the Appalachian Mountains. (Called the Allegany Mountains in some areas.)

Driving brings vistas of farmland and scenic overlooks. The train goes through the forests, along rivers, and into small towns. Those train rides drew me into stories.

For the third book, Mountain Rails of Old, I wanted not just personal family histories as a theme, but some aspects of local history as well. I drew in some of the Civil War time period and a role for the Underground Railroad. 

Maryland was a  border state, and a lot of people don't realize Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation didn't apply to border states such as Maryland and Delaware. The president didn't want to risk having them secede. Slavery was most common in southern Maryland, where I remember seeing huge tobacco barns as a very young child.

Nonetheless, the Western Maryland mountains lead into Pennsylvania and West Virginia, and Pennsylvania was a state to which a lot of escaping slaves fled. Thus, the idea of a possible Underground Railroad Station near the fictional Maple Grove. It's not a major element of the story, but I learned a lot weaving in those components.

As the June 30th release date approaches, I find myself more excited about this book than many others. Could be because it's set in my home state, could be because this summer I'll finally get to do some on-site research. I've been fortunate to find some excellent books, but it's not the same as visiting the locale.

I'll be looking for ideas for book four. 

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Thursday, June 10, 2021

Try the "Writers Helping Writers" Website

Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have created Writers Helping Writers -- a resource with dozens of tools and motivational articles for writes (published and unpublished) at all stages of their careers. From their blog to bookstore, the topics and tools are timely and to the point.

I enjoy learning. As I finish a project, I look for a new book or web resource to charge my writing batteries. Amazon carries the Writers Helping Writers Thesaurus series, many of which deal with character development and setting. I had seen these, but didn't realize how much more the authors provided on  the website.

The website has a tools section with downloadable articles on writing as a career, characters, revising work, setting, using emotion in writing and many more. Check out links to podcasts.

Some resources are free, others such as writing software or consultations require fees. I can't do the site justice. If you are also into lifelong learning, have a look.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or sign up for her newsletter

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Hobbies Into Books

I've enjoyed using my family history hobby as a jumping off point for the family history mysteries, and my friend Karen Musser Nortman does a bang-up job with the Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries. Since she camps all summer, she also has a built-in marketing modality -- never a bad thing.

I read several recreation or theme-based series. To get a better sense of how other authors handle hobbies in their books, I did a couple of Google searches, with limited success. Google kept wanting to guide me to articles about the best hobbies to list on a resume if you don't have a lot of job experience. Not helpful.

In the genre I write in most, cozy mysteries, there is an entire category for cozy craft and hobby mysteries. A quick survey shows food predominates, with authors such as Joanne Fluke, Ellery Adams, and Abigail Frost. I am a big fan of Molly MacRae's Haunted Yarn Shop Mysteries.

Pets may not be considered hobbies, but there are plenty of cat and dog mysteries. I like the Pampered Pet Mysteries by Sparkle Abbey, which is a good mix of pets and crime. I've read other pet-based mysteries (authors to remain nameless) that focus as much on the pet angle as the mystery. There's only so much I need to know about vet visits and animal costumes.

I think balance is the key for any theme-based book or series. Too much about cooking techniques, bakery shops, or genealogy searches and readers can be turned off. Maybe not if they are big-time into a pastime, but that could narrow the audience.

Until writing the Family History Mystery Series, I started with the setting. I love the Jersey shore, Iowa Rivers, and small towns. It hit me that if I merged a hobby through which I knew people it could lead to readers. Why didn't that occur to me ten years ago? No matter. What matters is I'm having a blast.

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Sunday, May 23, 2021

Working in Spurts

Ideally, I've developed ideas for whatever I'm writing and work consistently. For years, especially toward the end of a novel, my tenacity surprised even me. 

With the many changes wrought  by the pandemic and my aging fingers, I find it harder to sit still for an hour or  two at a time. Actually, sitting is fine. The fingers protest.

Yes, there is dictation. That's fine when I'm home alone, but doesn't work in a library or coffee shop. While I do it at times, it isn't as rewarding as ideas flowing from my brain to the screen in what, for me, is a more seamless process.

I've graduated to writing in spurts. I'll work for half-an-hour and then walk around with an icepack on my fingers. Occasionally I sit still to listen to the radio or watch a few minutes of TV, but walking is better. I do think as I walk and occasionally jot notes. However, too much writing by hand defeats the purpose of taking a finger break.

This past Saturday I had my second writing date at the library since March 2020. Bliss. Plus, when I need a break, I can wander the shelves.

Bottom line, I need some new productivity techniques that don't involve snacking. Many people have jobs in which they work in spurts and maintain concentration. I'm open to suggestions.

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Sunday, May 16, 2021

Donating to Roadside Libraries -- and Finding Books for Them

One of the best parts about my local library (Chatham Area Public Library in Illinois) is the room where sales of used books (and treats!) help fund the Friends of the Library activities. During the pandemic, the room couldn't operate, but is now open for limited hours, with occasional days when donations can again  be made. I write at the library a lot, and love this room.

Since we could not donate to the room for more than a year, I've looked for alternatives. Thrift stores are an option, but donations may not go to local stores. Fortunately, when dedicated volunteers created micro-pantries at locations throughout Springfield, Illinois, many also added micro-libraries.

You may have seen these for years in neighborhoods near you -- books to read, bring back, or keep. When so many libraries were closed, these neighborhood sites were invaluable.

This is a picture of the little library that sits next to the micro food pantry at Lanphier High School in my town. It may not seem big, but it can hold a lot of  books -- tall ones on the top shelf.

You don't need permission to drop off books, but it's important to note that people of all ages have access. A mix of reading for children and adults is most helpful. I would never advocate any censorship, but you want to follow guidelines and use common sense. For example, erotica would not be appropriate.

As the school year ends, kids may have books used for coursework (not textbooks) that they won't use again. School libraries may be thinning the collection to prepare for next year's acquisitions. Teachers and school librarians are busy as the year winds down. However, they may be willing to let you pick up used books that can be added to the free libraries. It's worth asking.

If you get a bunch of books from schools or from "bag day" at local library book sales, make a few trips to the mini-library --or go to several. The only thing you can't do is leave a box of books outside the enclosed boxes. 

Where to find these small libraries? Go to Above the map, put in your zip code. You may not find all the locations, but many are registered here. Does it take time? Yes. Is making books available to all worth it? You bet. 

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Sunday, April 25, 2021

Why "Going Wide" Can Work for Authors

Prolific authors -- whether they work with a publisher or self-publish -- sell many books through Amazon. I find it humbling (and fun) to sell books in so many countries.

As a largely self-published author, I've weighed the benefits of publishing solely through the KDP Select program, which provides incentives for selling only on Amazon's platforms. 

Through KDP Select, authors can provide books free for a few days per quarter and be paid when readers essentially 'rent' (and read) books through a subscription program called Kindle Unlimited. The theory is that exposure to an author's work will lead readers to buy additional books.

I ultimately decided to leave box sets of one series on KDP Select plus a few family history books. Others I sell on all sites, which is termed "going wide."

I now make as much money selling on other sites as on Amazon -- more some months. It took a lot of experimentation to get the scales to tip to the wide side, so to speak.

Sell Through a Distributor or With Each Retailer

Initially, I placed books with Amazon (which produces mobi files), then separately to Barnes and Noble. I added Kobo and loaded each ebook three times. I couldn't easily sell to Apple, because they required books to be published using their software. I was not going to spend time learning more software to get books to readers when other options were available.

That led me to Smashwords, to which I load books once and they send them to a number of retailers beyond Amazon, using largely the epub format. They charge what I consider a small fee for the service. With practice, it's become an easy process.

I've left a number of books as direct sales on Barnes and Noble and Kobo, but generally publish all new books via Smashwords as well as Amazon. I have a soft spot for BN, so occasionally publish directly with them, but it's more work. I also publish all my paperbacks through them (in addition to Amazon). I think there's some selling synergy by doing both versions, but can't prove it.

Pros and Cons

The sites have varied requirements, so there is extra time in formatting books for Amazon and Smashwords. Marketing has multiple targets. Tweets become more time-consuming because they must be constructed for all websites -- and sometimes the sites' international links as well. 

You buy more ISBNs, add more components to an author website, and maintain an author profile in many places. I have to be careful to do this work in "chunks" or it would detract a lot from writing. 

The additional time could be considered a big con, but it can add to a lot more readers -- and money. 

I don't write for fun -- okay, I do, but it isn't what I publish. If I'm going to polish and publish a book, I want to make money. Going wide lets me make more, and that's the big pro.

How Did Going Wide Translate to More Readers?

In theory, more places to sell should mean more books sold, but it did not happen quickly for me. At first, a new book would sell a bunch of copies and then sales would taper off again.

Many of my family members are iphone users, so they read my books on ipads or their phones. I didn't sell many books on Apple, and it ticked me off. 

My Jolie Gentil series has eleven books, and after considerable thought, I created distinct box sets for BN, Apple, and Kobo (via Smashwords). That increased sales some, but not much. 

I work too hard to like giving away a lot of books, but decided to make the first box set of the Jolie series free. The plan was to do so for a few weeks. 

You may have heard that luck is opportunity meeting preparation. I had some good dumb luck. I was working on two books and forgot to reinstate the price for the free box set for several months. Didn't even notice it until I saw a slight uptick in sales of the next two box sets.

And then sales of the succeeding box sets took off and readers began to notice my other books. I honestly don't think the experiment would have been successful if I had reinstated the price on that first box set after only a few weeks. 

The pie chart shows how the last month of sales has been split among the key markets. In March, Apple led sales. I'm happy to have the top site move between BN and Apple, and wish I could do more with Kobo and Overdrive (library ebook sales). 

Now, if you're a USA Today bestselling author, these numbers may not look all that good to you. I like them, and they continue to grow. 

The Smashwords Assist

While readers can buy directly from Smashwords, most go through the better-known retail sites. Smashwords lets author run sales on books via a discount program that runs for a specified periods of time. They promote the sales and the reduced prices appear on all the sites to which an author distributes books.

I rotate books through the sales, and usually offer one book free. The pie chart shows a decrease (over the last 30 days) in Smashwords sales because I sold more books during a recent sale, which is now over. 

The Smashwords sales have introduced readers to books in all my series and stand-alone fiction. Slowly those sales have grown, especially since I made the first books in the River's Edge and Logland series 99 cents all the time. 

The site also lets readers know which books sell best -- two of my Jolie box sets are now near the top of best-selling box sets. (Not the first set, because it's free.)

Recently, Smashwords has sent weekly emails telling me the books are selling well. Sweet. More important -- readers see them on the site's front page.

You can't do box set covers in 3-D format, which makes the set 
look like books on a shelf, as you can on Amazon. I think that's a more professional look, but you won't hear me complaining.

Lessons Learned

I want to reach readers everywhere, but I also want to take full advantage of every marketing opportunity possible. To me, the biggest advantage of Amazon's KDP Select  program is the income earned when people borrow the books through Kindle Unlimited. Having some books in that program is an important way for new readers to find my books.

If I were publishing my first book, I'd definitely put it on all sites. I'd probably try for a publisher first, too, but I'm used to self-publishing and enjoy the flexibility (for now). 

If a new author wants to experiment, s/he could publish a book via KDP Select and then go wide after three months (the KDP Select commitment). I can't think of a single reason to publish on all sites and then take books off a platform to be exclusive elsewhere.

The methods I've tried the last year work as well as they do because I've written a lot of books, so readers can go from one to another. That takes time. In the meantime, you want to reach readers everywhere you can.

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To learn more about Elaine, go to or subscribe to her newsletter.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

Writing Blogs I like

My Sisters in Crime chapter is going to pull together a list of good blogs for writers, and asked for input. I dashed this off without much thought. That doesn't mean I think these are not worth thinking about -- it means they came to mind easily. 

I use all of them.

I think K.M. Weiland's site, "Helping Writer's Become Authors," is exceptional. She focuses a lot on story structure, but also other aspects of writing. She covers fiction and nonfiction.

Jane Friedman's site mostly deals with the business of writing, but there are guest posts on creative aspects.

Joanna Penn writes the "Creative Penn" Blog. It's a mix of publishing, marketing, and writing. She also does podcasts and writes many books on publishing and writing.

C.S. Lakin does "Live, Write Thrive." She deals more with writing, and it's an exceptional site.

I find the various university writing sites to be very helpful. There are links to many here. It seems anytime I google an "odd" question, these are the kinds of blogs that come up. 

This is one I especially like

Whatever your genre or interest, someone else is providing resources for you.
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To learn more about Elaine, go to To see her writing classes, go to Learn Desk.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Seeing a Story from Each Character's Perspective

 If I had to pick one thing that has made a difference in my writing it would be seeing a story from each character's perspective. It puts the pieces into a cohesive puzzle.

That doesn't mean expressing all that to the reader. They may only need to know what the protagonist shows them. However the protagonist operates in a world with other people, and they march to their own drummers.

If you write traditional mysteries, they likely have an amateur sleuth who discovers a body -- as opposed to witnessing a gruesome murder. As word spreads, family members of the murder victim (let's say a 57-year old man) react very differently. His wife is stoic, his oldest son is so upset he cries easily and can't go to work, and the youngest daughter hosts her book club the next night because, as she puts it, life goes on and she'll appreciate the support of her friends.

The varied emotions could simply be reactions the writer shows because it's traditional to have a family grieve. Let's say that one of the family members gives the sleuth an important piece of information about the victim's actions the day before he was killed. It could be anything from where he ate lunch, who he played tennis with, or who he thinks was trying to undermine the father's company.

If the writer doesn't know the supporting character's perspective or background (and I'm not talking about a data dump), then the information about lunch seems like a simple recitation of what a family member knows about the victim's prior engagements.

But what if the writer knows that the daughter is furious with her father because he touted her brother's accomplishments and resented paying a dime of her college tuition? Through his passive aggressive behavior, he has always implied that teaching social studies is not as important being the CFO of a tech company, and his son makes good money as a CFO.

The resentful daughter may offer a caustic assessment of her father's ridiculous spending to dine out. That's very different than simply saying he ate at the Big Spender Diner. 

The acerbic comment could cause the sleuth to explore the father's spending habits more than s/he might have. That could lead to the sleuth learning that the victim spent lavishly on business lunches for all of his employees except one. That resentful employee's anger built until he confronted the victim in his office after hours and threw a punch that led to a head injury, dead body.

And the son's tears? Because though his father spoke well of his career choice, he never offered any indication that he approved of his son. Now the son will never be able to win his father's praise.

At this point, you may say, "So what? As long as the daughter said he spent a lot of money dining out, who  cares why she emphasized that point?"

Because knowing why she dissed her father's spending habits tells the writer a lot about the murder victim. Does the writer want to show other examples of a man who belittled others? What about showing him as someone who liked to spend big but struggled to pay tennis club dues in addition to basic expenses?

Does the author ever give readers the full story on the family relationships? Unless one of them was the killer, the story may not need more than a hint. 

But in learning the perspectives of the son and daughter, the author learned more about the victim. Well-rounded characters are far more interesting to writers and readers.

Along the way, those secondary characters may have become more intriguing and end up with bigger roles. You never know where a story will take you.

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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

What People Say About Books

So many young people say they "don't read." It saddens me. I suppose video games have taken the place of  books for many, and they do let people use their imaginations -- to a point. I'm not sure they can carry you around the world, other than to play against people in other parts of the globe.

Imagination keeps children playing with blocks and puppets and has taken us to the moon and back. Lucky the child whose parents read to them.

Some of my favorite quotes about books are:

A capacity and taste for reading gives access to whatever has already been discovered by others.         Abraham Lincoln.

Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.       Joyce Carol Oates

I still love books. Nothing a computer can do can compare to a book. You can’t really put a book on the Internet. Three companies have offered to put books by me on the Net, and I said, ‘If you can make something that has a nice jacket, nice paper with that nice smell, then we’ll talk.’ All the computer can give you is a manuscript. People don’t want to read manuscripts. They want to read books. Books smell good. They look good. You can press it to your bosom. You can carry it in your pocket.       Ray Bradbury

The cool thing about reading is that when you read a short story or you read something that takes your mind and expands where your thoughts can go, that's powerful.                           Taylor Swift

The bottom line is: Books are the Best.

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Sunday, March 28, 2021

The Eyes that Give Descriptions in a Book

 I've had a number of discussion with people about how much to describe a character's appearance, a room  they walk into, or scenery viewed from a car. Using an omniscient narrator gives an author the leeway to describe a room down to the coasters on a coffee table. 

But what if you write in first person or close third person? I subscribe to the belief that all information has to be provided through the eyes of the person narrating the story. The "I" individual in first person stories. In close third person, such as the Harry Potter stories, everything (except occasional chapters he's not in) is through his filter. 

A first-person book may offer information from the character's point of view -- even long paragraphs. Sue Grafton's Kinsey Milhone provides in depth background on a neighborhood, criminal, or crime -- but it's always something Kinsey knows or is learning.

Sometimes it may seem hard to tell a reader about a setting if the point-of-view character has been there previously. They wouldn't walk into a good friend's home and recite (to him or herself) the layout, style of furniture, or color of the walls.

However, there are ways to tell a reader what they need to see without doing a full stop as the character tells herself what she already knows. To use the friend's house (we'll call her Chloe), the sleuth could admire how Chloe manages to put so much antique furniture in a small living room without blocking access to the second-floor stairway. The reader learns  the house is small and has a second floor. Knowing Chloe values antiques may be something that goes with other characteristics she exhibits. (Or tells the reader something else, such as the kind of stores she burglarizes.)

I go to a lot of conferences and short classes about writing. I've learned pearls of wisdom from John GilstrapLeigh Michaels, William Kent Krueger, and Julie Hyzy, to name a few. These authors write very different kinds of books, but they impart knowledge well and offer good discussions on point of view. 

First person works well for traditional or cozy mysteries, when the reader is solving the crime with the sleuth. Third person (especially multiple points of view) is almost essential for thrillers. It's the best way to learn what the bad guy (a.k.a. the antagonist) is up to. Even then, a writer has to be "forever conscious of camera placement" -- John Gilstrap's way of saying don't stray out of the point-of-view character's vision.

Authors have their preferences. As long as they, their readers, and at least some reviewers like them, books sell. In the Harry Clifton novels, Jeffrey Archer announces each POV change by putting the character's name and a time period on a separate page. 

Contemporary romance novels usually have two POVs, since the focus is on a couple's relationship. The more racy Regency romances may have several, often associated with different subplots and clearly delineated. 

One method that will make me close a book is shifting points of view in the same scene or even paragraph. Authors may see this as more appropriate now that we've watched movies for...more than a century. The camera takes in everyone's view, including the audience's. I find constant POV shifts to be a lazy way to tell a story.

A couple of years ago, I wrote a guest blog post for Dru's Book Musings. I took a scene from Final Operation, one of the Logland Series books, which are generally from Police Chief Elizabeth Friedman's point of view. Then I rewrote the scene from the medical examiner's POV -- which is never expressed in the book. What a difference! I'm going to do it more often.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Writing Scene By Scene

I'm working on Mountain Rails of Old, third in the Family History Mystery Series. I finished the basic outline a month ago, and have written about a third of it.

As I get to know the characters -- especially resident ghost Uncle Benjamin -- I have almost more ideas than I can use. Rather than develop each one, I'm doing short scenes about the various events. It's liberating.

I'm mapping out conversations and actions and putting words into the characters' mouths, so to speak. Because these are a jumble of scenes, for the moment I don't have to create smooth transitions or worry about whether I've done adequate foreshadowing. That can come later.

This is a new approach for me, and possibly not one I'll use again. In the meantime, it's enabling me to work on the different subplots in and of themselves. I can put them together (in order!) later.

Why try this? For a time, I'm doing some 'day job' work. I wanted to be sure I kept writing at a fast pace, but I can't always do four to six hours at a time. I'll have to think of a name for a method. Scatterbrained doesn't seem quite right...

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Sunday, February 28, 2021

Quotes Bring Ideas

I'm always jotting notes, sometimes in a notebook other times on odd pieces of paper. The challenge is remembering what my abbreviations mean.

Today a friend mentioned a Mark Twain quote: "I've never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure."

It would be a great thing for a character to say upon learning of someone's death. Then the death is ruled a homicide and people remember him/her saying this. Opens the door to wondering about motive.

I'm working on the third book in the Family History Mystery Series (Mountain Rails of Old). The idea won't fit there, but at some time it will come back to me.

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