Monday, November 27, 2023

Blogs for Mystery Writers

By Elaine L. Orr

You could spend a day going from blog to blog about writing mysteries, learning about mysteries, or just plain reading them.

My favorite blog is Writers Who Kill, which has varied and thought-provoking posts from a group of mystery authors and occasional guest posts. Usually 15-20 posts per months. You might like a recent one on creating content for your blog.

If you want an overview of several sites, check out this article on the top six sites (updated in 2022). Detailed descriptions of sites such as The Mystery Writers Forum and several organizations for writers, such as Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime.

More for readers than authors is the Cozy Mystery List Blog. Excellent compilation of upcoming books in this popular genre. Superb index so you can scan years of books. 

If you're just getting into mysteries, go beyond current authors. Ah Sweet Mystery! covers the golden age of detectives. Think Agatha Christie, Alfred Hitchcock -- a great mix of authors and characters such as Lord Peter Wimsey, Miss Marple, Dr. Gideon Fell, Father Brown, Inspector Maigret, Edgar Allen Poe, Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Charlie Chan, Ellery Queen and Nero Wolfe!

This will get you started. I'll post more another time.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

How Life Experiences Affect Writing -- Even if You Don't Know it

By Elaine L. Orr

Characters in my books or stories periodically end up in a hospital emergency room, usually because of a diabolical act by another character. They don't stay long, but I'm often told how realistic my hospital scenes are. 

I should hope so. I can't count the number of orthopedic incidents (for want of a better term) I've been through. I could win any race on crutches. What it's given me is perspective. What's it like to ride on a gurney? You can count ceiling tiles or lights as you whiz by. When you're wheeled into an operating room, it's really cold.

Here's an exchange at the beginning of Vague Images, a Jolie Gentil book.

 IF IT HADN’T been for the deer that ran in front of my car I wouldn’t have hurt my foot jamming on the brakes. If I hadn’t hurt my foot I wouldn’t have gone to Ocean Alley’s hospital. If I hadn’t been in the hospital I wouldn’t have seen him. Not that I could follow him. I was on my butt in the emergency room.

Doctor Birdbaum raised his voice. “Jolie, you need to lie still while I wrap your ankle.”

“I need to…”

“You need to be still.” His voice was firm.

I stared at the fluorescent light above me and winced. “Ow. Does it have to be that tight?”

“Only if you want it to do any good.” Dr. Birdbaum is a short, round man who rarely exhibits any sense of humor. I didn’t think he was kidding now.

Riding a subway helps with scenes where people are squeezed together so tightly burping is not an option. If you've every rear-ended the car in front of you, you'll remember the feelings of guilt and the strong desire to yell at yourself for following too closely. You don't have to write a car accident scene, the sense of how-could-I-be-so-dumb can apply to many settings.

In talking about her character, Miss Marple, Agatha Christie said: "She's had a long life of experience in noticing evil, fancying evil, suspecting evil and going forth to do battle with evil. - Author: Agatha Christie

Dame Agatha added many experiences for Miss Marple, and she seized them all.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Gun Metaphors in Everyday Language

By Elaine L. Orr

As a mystery writer, I have learned more about guns than I ever thought I would. I don't use them a lot in my books, because I write traditional or cozy mysteries. Murders are more often spur-of-the-moment action or are committed with items that could be in a household. Think fireplace poker or a shove down the stairs.

The other day I heard someone say, "Don't go off half-cocked," -- an expression my dad used. He was telling us not to jump to conclusions or act without thinking something through.

That led my mind to wander to the many gun-related expressions in American English.These metaphors crop up more often in a country that started with a revolution and then bore the scars of a civil war than, for example, in Canada, where the country was settled in a more orderly fashion. I'm not attaching a value judgment to either situation, it's simply a difference.

Here are a few expressions that come to mind quickly:

Don't shoot your mouth off -- advice to think before you speak.

Keep your powder dry -- be careful or look ahead

Shoot from the hip -- acting quickly, without thinking clearly

Big guns or big shots -- important people in a business or town

Set your sights on something -- establish a goal

Come under fire -- take criticism for an opinion or action

Take flak -- see come under fire

Dodge a bullet -- fortunate to avoid a problem or accident

Silver bullet -- an almost magic solution, as in there's no silver bullet 

to solving a plot problem in a novel.

Naturally, I'm not the first to put together such a list. When I was considering examples, I came across a National Public Radio transcript on the topic -- Gun Metaphors Deeply Embedded in English Language. It's worth a read if the topic interest you. Feel free to add more examples in the comments.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The Reality Balancing Act

By Elaine L. Orr

Reality is not the first concern when writing fiction, but individual scenes have to be realistic --- within a book's  premise or setting.

If a book deals with mayhem or murder, an author can't describe a massive wound or injury and then have the character recover in a couple of days. The mean kid at school is not suddenly a kind volunteer (without substantial intervention), and no one gets across New York City in ten minutes.

As a traditional/cozy mystery writer, I've created sleuths who have (to me) interesting jobs -- real estate appraiser, landscaper, graphic artist, and small-town police chief. I also like my characters to be involved in things besides solving a mystery. Unless it's your job, who would stop all activity to pursue suspects?

In fact, I once made the amteur sleuth a teacher. That left too little time for crime-solving, so she broke her arm and had to be off work for a couple of weeks.

Wat about those other "things" sleuths do? 

On my website, I say this:

     "What makes Elaine’s fiction different from other traditional mysteries? Some might say the dry humor (only a few say lame), but she thinks it is the empathy her characters show to others. Fiction can’t ‘lecture’ readers. But it can contain people whose paths we cross every day — whether we know it or not. The bright colleague or grouchy neighbor who’s actually in severe emotional pain, the families struggling to provide enough food for their children, the vet with PTSD. While characters solve crimes or plan silly fundraisers, they can tacitly let us know there is a world beyond those activities. And maybe they can make it a little better."

For me, reality is recognizing the world around us isn't perfect and quietly doing something about it. However, people read fiction in part to escape reality. So, if one character runs a food pantry, part of the attention to it is through a silly fundraiser.

I think one reason I like M.C. Beaton's Hamish Macbeth books is his involvement in things around him beyond the crime he's solving. Admitedly, sometimes his fixes are pretty unlikely. But, he is a constable (at least when he's demoted) so he can do a lot.

None of a character's 'other activities' are meaningful unless they tie into the story. I've learned it's easier to have a real estate appraiser involved in many activities and get all over town than for a graphic designer. But even bad guys could need a TikTok video.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Twelth Anniversary of Blogging. Who Knew?

By Elaine L. Orr

On October 16, 2011, I wrote the first post on this blog, Irish Roots Author. Its title was "First time blogger at what age?!" Below is the post:

I have long been a writer, but have never blogged.  It took me a couple years to get a Facebook account, and I still prefer email -- faster and fewer distractions.  Now that I have "retired" I am publishing more of what I write, and would love to have people read my books or articles.  Does that happen if you sit in a home office and keep the cat off the laptop keyboard (which kitty believes is her electric blanket)?  Nope. 

So, here I sit with not a clue about how to use a blog to my advantage and willing to learn.  Did I mention I can't update my web site because the host site (Yahoo) no longer allows Microsoft Front Page?  Learning new software for the web site and creating a blog?  Yikes.

If you had told me I'd write hundred of posts on reading, writing, publishing, and what I term musings, I would have scoffed. (There's a word you don't get to use too often.)

Early posts were shorter than most current ones. However, as I learned more about publishing, I tried to share what I'd learned. It didn't take me long to figure out that I might spend hours learning how to do something (load a book to a website, develop marketing ideas), but I would use two minutes of those hours to get the job done. I kept trying to compress the information so others could take less time.

Now I try to write mostly about writing, though I diverge or relate what I write to other aspects of life. The hardest part is to write steadily. I've set on three posts a month, and appreciate forcing myself to do it. When you write fiction, self-discipline is your friend and your nightmare.

No words of wisdom today. Just acknowledging that I'm still here, pushing the electronic pencil.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Saturday, September 30, 2023

Reading Books with Libby

I have read books with Kindle, Nook, and on my computer since 2010. I do like paper copies, but you can't carry 400 books in your purse or pocket, and if you move you pay 50 to 60 cents per pound to get them to your new place. Plus, some books are heavy and my fingers prefer less weight these days.

I didn't use library ebook services much, simply because I already had so many Kindle ebooks I hadn't read. However, some of what I want to read is expensive on commercial sites, especially audiobooks, so I've delved more into Libby, the free reading app most public libraries use. 

How do you start using Libby? First, you need a library card. Then download the Libby App on your phone or laptop (or both). 

Apple Download

Android Download

Amazon Kindle Fire

Libby's own instructions are better than any I could write, and very clear. Visit Libby's Getting Started help pages. You need a Libby account, but it's free and you access it from the app you installed for Apple or Android (Google). 

Once you've downloaded the app, sign in with your library card from your own library website or the Overdrive sign-in page, which lets you put in your library card number. (Overdrive is Libby's parent site.)

Overdrive signin for Libby with your lbrary card number. (There is a way to set up an account using your email, but I have not done this.)

Make sure to go to "account" and add your email and select your library. You'll do this by entering your zip code or libray name and selecting your library. Your library will usually be part of a consortium, so your zip code search may take you there first.

Once you are signed in, the fun begins. You'll usually see a list of bestselling books, but you can easily search by author, title, or subject. You may need to place a hold on a book, since libraries only have so many copies of a specific book. You'll be notified by email when it's available.

These are general guidelines. As with any app or software, explore a little. Books are always worth the time it takes to find them. Happy reading!

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Monday, September 11, 2023

Never Forgetting

Elaine L. Orr

You don't need to be an American to remember where you were on September 11, 2001. I was in an office in Washington, DC, about 10 blocks north of the Potomac River. A south-facing window showed the smoke rising from the Pentaton.

The fire was out very quickly, unlike in New York City. Because of the massive demand for news, we couldn't get on the Internet. TV and radio worked fine, and rumors rocketed around the office. A car bomb was said to have been found in front of the State Department -- not true, but the most persistent of the batch. It wasn't until I saw a two-inch "rumor-denied" piece in the next day's Washington Post, that I realized that rumor was also false.

Pentagon gap is below lowest-hanging traffic light

My office was three blocks west of the White House and eight east of the U.S. Capitol, so after the plance crashed in Pennsylvania, we worried about more planes en route to DC. For about an hour, traffice was gridlocked. I had come in on the Metro. Could we take the subway home? And when I say 'home,' I mean a friend's house. I was visiting from Iowa. With all air traffic stopped, several days later I could fly home, but not before then. 

My clearest memory is that I was the only one watching the office television who cried when the second tower came down. Were people numb? I never asked the others why they didn't cry.

Letter from school children after September 11th/
Fence at Arlington National Cemetery.
Such concerns are minor compare to what was happening at the Pentagon and in New York City.

On the 13th, I drove to Arlington, Virginia and parked close enough to walk to a spot next to Arlington National Cemetery. My parents are in there, and my mother sometimes worked in the Pentagon during World War II. The huge hole boggled my mind, as did the idea of 184 people dying there two days prior.

Lots of other people wanted a sense of community with the tragedy, as you can see by the sign hung on the fence that surrounds the cemetery. A couple dozen people stood or sat quietly, looking at the Pentagon.

Most years I write about September 11th. Maybe someone who lived through that time will be comforted, and perhaps someone who has no memory of it will feel the sorrow. We cannot forget.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

When History and Family History Merge

By Elaine L. Orr

Today, August 26, 2023, is the 103rd anniversary of ratifying the 19th amendment, which granted women in the United States the right to vote. It's hard to fathom that half the population wasn't allowed that basic right, but when the nation was founded only property owners could vote. This translated to white men, because women didn't own property and most Black Americans were slaves. 

For most people, these are facts we understand, regret, and move forward, working to ensure all eligible citizens can vote. 

My mother's mother was the daugher of Irish immigrants, Cornelius and Anna Teehan. He was treasurer of the local school district, and people made fun of him because he wanted his daughters to have as much education as his sons. On the plains of Kansas in the 1870s and 1880s, high school would have been the top option, and I assume she went to Westmorland High School.

One of the first things I remember my mother (born in 1922) telling me was something her mother (Nellie Teehan Rooney, 1881-1956) relayed to her early on. That was that mom's life would be very different than her mother's because all of her life mom would know she could vote. Not that she could cast ballots, but that she would KNOW that she could. She was equal. 

Recently, I found a 1914 article in the Seneca, Kansas paper about local elections. It notes that my grandfather, Thomas E. Rooney (1878-1931), was a candidate for councilman. Only the 2nd precinct (his) had two contesttants. The article notes, "While it is likely to be spirited, all signs point toward a good-natured measurement of strength." 

In a town of largely Republican voters, he was a Democrat and I don't think he won, as I never heard him referred to as a local official.

The final paragraph is what interested me most. "The Second was the only one in which the ladies turned out to attend the nominating convention. Quite a number were present and took considerable interest in witnessing how things are done."

These ladies would be my grandmother and her friends! She was active in different civic causes. Seneca had no public library, so she and her friends raised money to found one. My mother and her younger sister were pictured taking out the first books. (They were very cute.)

Here's where research gets even more fun. An article about the Seneca Free Library relays the following:

The Library was an idea generated by the Seneca Women's Club embroidery circle in 1908. As they worked, they often discussed books and the need for a town library. After collecting 300 books they persuaded a drug store to give them shelving space. Town administrators noticed their efforts and offered better space in City Hall. In 1915, the collection grew and was moved to Seneca High School. The Old Stone Universalist Church -- a fine structure built in 1869 of Kansas soft gray stone with stained glass windows and bell tower -- was acquired in 1928 and it became the collection's permanent home. As the library continued to grow, a new wing was added in 1997, a handsome complement to the original church. The project is an example of Seneca's growing interest in the reuse of historic architecture. 

My mother and her sister would have been the first borrowers at the 1928 library, and my grandmother was a member of that Women's Club! Not likely the embroidery circle, as she didn't like needle work and she had several young sons at that time. 

The pictures at right depict my grandmother, Nellie, her mother Anna, and my mom, Rita Rooney Orr. Of the three, two voted during their lifetimes. 

I never met either of my mother's parents, so I treasure finding nuggets that go beyond the few verbal stories I heard. And I love that reading and voting were an important part of their lives.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Saturday, August 19, 2023

Do You Want to Write a Blog?

By Elaine L. Orr

Blogs (short for web log) have been an important way for people to get their ideas to a large audience. Blogger (Google's blog platform, which hosts my site) began in 1999, a few short years after the concept took form. 

If you're wondering why blogs didn't begin until the 1990s, you clearly have always lived in the Internet age. Early users, as I was, first reached the Internet through subscription services such as Prodigy and AOL. They generated content, presented news, and hosted bulletin board topics. You could communicate with other people in almost real time! I used family history and travel bulletin boards. But you only interacted with other subscribers to those platforms.

When direct access to the Internet became easy, blogs became a way to present information and opinions and attract regular readers without being a news columnist or well-known expert. People subscribed to your blog and soon Google's search engine (and now others as well) would lead readers to it. 

Those things are still true, but there are lots more communication options today. Facebook lets people follow your posts, which can be short or long. Twitter (now X) has been a wonderful way to present opinion and guide people to longer articles. If it doesn't implode, it still can be, though it's also become ground zero for nasty opinions, so it's not so much fun anymore. I could list other social media options, but you get the point.

Do we still need blogs? Are they worth the effort? I would say they are needed, but you have to refine your content and consistently create posts. Regular can be monthly, but more often keeps readers looking to your posts.

What do I mean by refine your content? If you write a blog that's akin to a memoir or is your take on life, that's fine. Introspection can draw readers, but it won't in and of itself unless you're especially witty or have established yourself as a public figure or influencer. To clarify, bloggers are content creators who develop material to share information. Influencers generally post opinions or sponsor content to earn money and gain popularity.

Generally, a blog would deal with one or closely related topics (as the Irish Roots Author does with writing). You could cover something as broad as international politics, but if that's your topic, don't write about the importance of Thanksgiving Traditions in your family. That won't be why readers open your posts.

As I pondered this topic for today I (naturally) did a Google search on why people write blogs. I found a very good post by Joe Bunting on how to write blog posts. It's an excellent overview, but also tells you the biggest mistake he made when starting (also the biggest mistake he sees most writers making): he cared more about connecting with himself than readers. I've done that, too. Read his article.

You don't need to be an expert to start a blog. You need to have an interest in a topic, be willing to look beyond your own opinions (a.k.a. do some research as needed), and write cogently.

Consider these points before you start a blog.

1) Are you interested enough in a subject to explore it for years?

2) Can you consistently devote time to writing?

3) Can you continue to do something even if you don't get quick gratification?

4) Do you like your topic and writing about it enough to continue even if you don't get comments or a lot of readers?

5) Can you afford to pay for a host or do you need a free site? 

Numbers 3 and 4 are related. I don't have a lot of subscribers to Irish Roots Author, but I publicize it on Twitter (now X) and my website, so I attract readers. Some months it's 1,000, others it's 3,000 or more. It's more if someone else refers to my blog on theirs or in an article.

If you look to the right of this post, you'll see links to past years and the number of posts. I fluctuated a lot. The first year I wrote 50+ but many were short and some were notices of special sales for my books. I found my stride and try to write three articles per month and use the posts to convey information. A couple years I averaged a lot less -- I thought I needed to devote substantial time to the posts and I was working on multiple books. Now, I simply tell myself to write three each month and if I'm busy to write something short.

I strongly advise an index, especially if you keep at it. Mine is divided into: Reading, writing, publishing, audiobooks, marketing, and musings. The last subject tells you I break my own rule and sometimes write about what's on my mind other than writing.

A final point. A lot of people link a blog to their website or pay the annual fees to have an exclusive name for the blog and a site to host it. I have a website I pay for, but I used blogger's free version in case (as I age) there comes a time when I don't want to spend at least a couple hundred dollars a year to blog. Thus, my site is named Irish Roots Author but the address is

You want to write a blog? Go for it.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

By Elaine L. Orr 

As a fiction writer, I constantly try to see the world through the eyes of others. Usually these are my fictional characters, but the philosophy came from my parents.

I lived in the DC Metro area, in Maryland, growing up. Every day you saw people who were different than you -- to a child this meant they didn't look or dress like you. I remember the first time I saw a man in  traditional African clothing in a downtown store. I was four or five and embarrassed my mother by asking, loudly, why the many "wore a dress." She replied that that was the way people dressed in his country, and he smiled at me.

Back then, we had three TV stations in DC, two daily newspapers, and a number of AM radio stations. (I don't remember FM in the late 1950s.) News was pretty standard and relayed without a lot of opinions.

Fast forward to today and I couldn't begin to count the ways information and opinions spew to me 24 hours a day. And somehow, the fact that we think or look differently than one another often becomes the basis for shouting matches -- you can tell people are yelling on Twitter because they write in all caps.

In the real word as in fiction, you have to put yourself in another person's perspective. Okay, you don't have to, but life is more fulfilling (and just plain easier) because you spend a lot less time being angry. 

I'm not saying you should smile when someone cuts you off in traffic. You may even feel better if you say a few choice words about them. But if you think about that for the next fifteen minutes, your blood pressure will be up. 

Now, if you're writing a murder mystery and you find the other driver dead in an alley the next morning, you have important reasons to consider their behavior. Why were they driving so fast yesterday? Perhaps they were leaving the scene of another murder. Or maybe they were just racing home to get to the bathroom. Either way, putting yourself in their shoes helps you figure out what's going on. Just like the real world.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter 

Saturday, July 29, 2023

The Camera in Your Mind

By Elaine L. Orr

Or is it a digital player? 

I see images very clearly. Probably most writers do. But there is something about visiting a place in which you've set a book that makes it so much easier to write the next book in a series. Well, not easy, but at least more visually appealing as you write.

My family history series set in Garrett County, Maryland, takes place in the vicinity of Deep Creek Lake. For the first four books, the sleuth would occasionally drive across the lake. Her focus was more on the task at hand than the lake itself.

In the fifth book, Sleuth Digger Browning still lives in a mountain town, but more of the story is centered on the lake itself. I've done a lot of reading about the lake's creation and its role in the economy.

After driving over and all around the lake at the end of May, I have 200 pictures in my brain. The visit also led me to sign up for the Deep Creek Times, a free newsletter about the area, which has beautiful photos. I just saved one so I can refer to it as I write a scene about a sunset over the lake.

Deep Creek Lake at Fort McHenry, MD
The photo of a dock at Fort McHenry, Maryland (at left) was one of the few I took of the lake itself. I have a (stupid) knee injury that is sufficiently annoying that I didn't walk by the water much. I did take a short video of the scene so I can listen to the water lap at the boats.

I can vividly picture the lake from an overlook, and took many photos of the mountains among which the lake nestles.

Just as important as how a place looks is the people who populate it. Deep Creek Lake is a resort area, more so in the summer, but with skiing options in the winter. It might be the Appalachians rather than the Rockies, but you can still take a fast slide down a mountain.

To get a sense of the pople who live there, I spent time in the towns, such as Oakland (the county seat) and Accident, which is just off the Interstate. Tourist guides are great, but visits to the historical society, libraries, and small eateries give a better sense than watching sailboats on the lake.

Tentatively titled Long-Held Lake Secrets, the story today relates back to actions at about the time the lake was formed in the 1920s. Some secrets just can't stay buried.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Thursday, July 20, 2023

Dangling Words on a Clothesline

 By Elaine L. Orr

I heard the phrase "dangling words on a clothesline" the other day and thought it a wonderful metaphor for putting our writing before readers. 

We're basically hanging ourselves out to dry in the hope of having people read our books -- or poems, or stories. We hope they even like what we air to the public. 

Then, because I'm letting my mind wander, I realzied that most people under 40 (maybe even 50?) have never seen clothes hanging on a clothesline. Perhaps bathing suits or beach towels, but even those are thrown in the dryer.

A dryer. A place where words go to get batted around and overheated.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Thursday, June 29, 2023

Metaphors and Similes: A Love-Hate Relationship

Metaphors and similes are sometimes my friend and sometimes drive me bonkers.

In Star Trek IV the Voyage Home, the crew is approaching earth and smacks into the effects of a probe that is damaging the atmosphere. Bones hollers at Captain Kirk about where they are, and his response is, "We're out of control and blind as a bat." That metaphor is a much better response than a point on a star chart. 

The second line of John Sandford's Deadline is, "D. Wayne Sharf slid across Winky Butterfield's pasture like a greased weasel headed for a chicken house." A good simile. You know you're dealing with a despicable character up to no good. A slimeball, perhaps.

But then there are authors who describe something and add a simile to the description. "Her deep blue eyes were like the North Atlantic Ocean on a cloudy day." Thank you, but I understood deep blue. More to the point, I have no idea when the North Atlantic Ocean looks like on a cloudy day.

Certainly, not all similes are irritating. Figurative language can add a lot to a story. But when you're reading a book and everything is compared to something else, it's irritating. More so if you are listening to a book.

I was about to cite a couple of authors, but I've chickened out. Who am I to question the writing style of people who sell lots more books than I do?

If you want to email me about the authors you think overuse similes or metaphors, I'll quote you in another blog post. 😆

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Writing Now Instead of Wishing Later that You'd Done It

By Elaine L. Orr

I'm going to do something I don't usually do in a blog anymore, which is publicize a book that's been out for a while. 

Let's assume you would like to write some fiction or nonfiction. The issue is whether you can add that to your plate, or if next year would be better. There’s always next year, right? Next year always comes, but not with more than 24 hours in each day.

Sharing What I've Learned

That's why I wrote Writing When Time is Scarce and Getting the Work Published. It's free(through June 27, 2023) and the Kindle version is only 99 cents in all countries. If you don't read this post right away, it's still a bargain for you. The paperback is also inexpensive because I didn't write this book to make money. I wrote it to share what I learned in a way that may help other writers.

If you think you have, "no time," you may be able to rethink your activities and pare down some responsibilities or hobbies. Perhaps this book will help you get a better sense of time involved in writing blogs or books (or anything else). Then you can figure out what to cut or reprioritize.

The Most Basic Point

One thing is definite. If you allocate a certain time of the day or given day to writing, you are more likely to make progress. If you let those most close to you know you plan to write a few hours per week, you can more easily designate time to do so. 

What you don’t want is to reach a certain age and say, “If only I’d started earlier.”

This book will help you figure out it’s not about turning your life upside down. It could be about two more hours per week. If you can find it, I can show you how to go from rough draft to published author -- whether you do all the work yourself or work with a publisher. Check out the chapters:

1. Thinking Through the Writing Option

2 Setting Aside Time & Resources to Write

3 The Publishing Environment

4 Options for Types of Writing

5. Feedback and Proofing

6 Types of Publishers and Questions for Them

7. If You Do Decide to Self-Publish

8 Preparing to Publish: Ebook Formatting

9. Paperbacks with Amazon KDP

10. Paperbacks with Barnes and Noble and Ingram Spark

11. Online Tools To Create Book Covers

12. Business Basics of Retail Accounts

13. How Retail Sales Sites Differ

14. Loading Ebooks to Online Retailers

15. Producing Audiobooks

16. Selling What You Write

17. BONUS CHAPTER! Articles, Short Stories, and Blogs: Brief Can be Mighty

Why should you read a book I've written? 

 For years I wrote in bits and pieces because I had busy jobs. Most of those early products will never see daylight, but they did teach me a lot about writing. I kept reading books on writing, taking classes and...writing. Finally, I was ready to publish -- and put out 25 book in 7 years (I'm now up to 31.). 

Your path may be different, but the route doesn't start until you make the time to write.

Ready, set, write!

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

How to Distract Your Writing Time with Research

 By Elaine L. Orr

I love to dig into information. It's why I like to explore my family tree and pick sleuths who have interesting careers that I don't know a lot about. Lots to learn before (or as) I write. 

But there comes a point...

I've started the fifth book in the Family History Mystery Series, tentatively titled Long-Held Lake Secrets. The series is set in Garret County, the most Western of the Free State's counties. 

Until this book, most of the action has taken place on Meadow Mountain, a real place that hosts the fictional town of Maple Grove. I chose that mountain because much of it is parkland, so I didn't need to describe a specific town or its neighbors.

The crown jewel of Garret County, Maryland is Deep Creek Lake, created for hydroelectric power in the mid-1920s by building an earth and rock wall dam across a tributary of the Youghiogheny River. A source of fishing and some recreation, it's now a major destination with dozens of hotels and rental homes along the 3,900-acre lake. 

Boat Dock at Fort McHenry, on the lake.

My sleuth, Digger Browning, has driven on a bridge across the water in most of the books, but I decided the lake had to play a major part in the fifth book. I love water and learning about it. For a few years, I went to to a monthly watershed meeting in Iowa for heaven's sake.

But here's the rub. If my sleuth is going to investigate something that may be hidden in Deep Creek Lake (to say nothing of a murder) my instinct is to learn all about the lake -- how it was formed, what flora and fauna surround it, what the rules about boating and other uses are...I could go on. Think bear-proof garbage cans.

I've now learned a great deal about building the dam -- original plans for four -- only one needed. Lots of campsites, a largely groundwater-fed lake, and many kinds of fish (stocked annually).

Do I need to know all that? Wait, I can't stop going from book to website, to article. Do all writers have OCD?

Perhaps it's our primary fuel. I'm not sure. I'm still making pages of notes.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, June 7, 2023

When a Hobby Leads to Mysteries

 By Elaine L. Orr

Most of my mystery series come about because I'm interested in a place. The Jolie Gentil series grew from a love of Mid Atlantic beach towns, especially smaller ones, in the off-season.

The River's Edge series, set along the Des Moines Rivers in Southeast Iowa, grew from my admiration of how residents of Van Buren County, Iowa helped each other after the river flooded in 2008. I still haven't put a flood in one of the books, but I think I've captured the feel of a small, rural town.

The Logland Series was not meant to be one. Huh? I wrote Tip a Hat to Murder as kind of a lark. I'd recently moved to central Illinois and thought, "How come I've never written a book about a place I live?" (I used to live in Iowa, but wrote that series after I left.) The Logland series features a small-town police chief and a lot silly humor at times. So, different for me. Then I didn't want to let go of the characters!

Where did the name Logland come from? Illinois is famous for Abraham Lincoln, right? The first thing little kids learn about him is that he lived in a log cabin. In fact, we all played with Lincoln Logs. I know, it's a groaner.

What about the Family History Mysteries?

My sister describes a day we were all at my aunt and uncle's place on the Rhode River in Maryland. She was standing next to my cousin looking at the water and joked about how I'd become fond of tromping in cemeteries looking for long-dead ancestors. She deemed that weird.

My cousin and her adult daughter looked at each other and back to my sister. They also tromped. My sister said she realized she was the odd one out. (In fact, my cousin Barb and her kids have visited cemeteries and courthouses in six or eight states.)

The photo at right shows the result of that (joyful) work. Most people have names on their family trees. My cousin's wall has photos of ancestors going back several generations. That is a labor of love.

William Orr & two siblings, Missouri
One day late in 2019, it occurred to me I'd never written a book about the state where I lived my first 43 years (Maryland) or created a sleuth who liked to delve into family roots. Thus grew Digger and her Uncle Benjamin, and the Pandemic let me do four books rather quickly.

To get a good sense about my thoughts and how they led to the series, take a look at my post on Lois Winston's blog, Killer Crafts and Crafty Killers. The photo at the beginning was taken in the early 1930s, about 100 years after William Orr left Aghadowey in County Londonderry. The couple in front are his cousins, who stayed in Ireland.


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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Visiting Family History Series Locale Was a Blast

By Elaine L. Orr

Earlier in May, I visited Garrett County, Maryland, which houses the (fictional) town of Maple Grove, home to Digger, Uncle Benjamin, et. al. in my Family History Mystery Series. I drove or took the train through the Western Maryland mountains many times, but didn't visit as I wrote the series because of Covid restrictions and a crushed vertebra. (Note to self: human parts are delicate. Do not crush.)

 Fortunately, the Garrett County Historical Society mailed me materials and many scholars have written readily available articles on the region. The stories are fiction, but I like the history to be true when I refer to things such as building Deep Creek Lake or Civil War actions in the region.

It was fun to tour the many hundreds of artifacts in the society building on Second Street in Oakland. It also reinforced my choice to name the sleuth Digger Browning. When I did initial research, I wanted a name that would relate to the area, but would not point to a specific person alive today. I chose Browning because this was the name of an early pioneer (Meshach Browning) and he had eleven children -- and thus many descendants. 

If you look at the photo of items in a display case, you'll see a receipt pad for Brownings, Inc., which was a grocery store and purveyor of meat. In the books thus far, I haven't tied Digger to the name, but there will be plenty of books in which to do so.

More important than historical information was getting a better feel for the locale. I had never driven down to Oakland from Interstate 68. It's the county seat, and I mention it in the books so readers have a frame of reference. Because Garrett County is home to Deep Creek Lake, it's a resort area. I hadn't expected the town to 'bustle' as much as it does. 

The best surprise was Book Mak'et and Antiques Mezzanine. I had inferred it was primarily a children's bookstore -- and it has a large collection and special area for kids. However, it also has a great selection of adult titles and a very friendly owner, Judy Devlin. She graciously agreed to carry the family history series.

And then there are the libraries. For a small county, in terms of population, the Ruth Enlow Public Library has an impressive five branches. In mountainous terrain with lots of snow, most people can live near one of the branches. Such a gift. The photo is of the Oakland Branch. Note the words on the back wall -- The More You Read the More You Know.

I don't write a travel blog, but I would have to recommend the area as a terrific place to hike, camp, or simply get to know. I'll talk more about the history -- as it relates to the books -- as I begin book five. 
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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Monday, May 29, 2023

What to Watch Out for When You Write in Chunks

By Elaine L. Orr 

A previous article on Irish Roots Author suggested that authors consider writing pieces of a novel out of order (or perhaps before the order is clear) so that ideas keep flowing to paper or computer. Sometimes it's possible to envision and write an entire scene. Other times, a 'chunk' is more appropriate.

A chunk is one of several things: a discussion between two or more characters, a dramatic segment (which does not need to include physical activity), or a short explanation of anything related to a story. Whatever's in your head, get it out.

Though writing short segments can keep the author moving, the products may not end up in the story or book. What are some of the things to watch out for when writing in short bursts?

1) Including excessive background or description. You may have a very clear understanding of a character's motives or life history. The reader may not need to know all of that. Put in too much extraneous information and readers will skim over paragraphs or pages.

2) Having a hard time organizing the pieces. This is sort of a chicken-or-egg scenario. Some action or information has to precede other actions For example, before a character discovers a lost family treasure, it has to be clear that it's missing, why it matters, and what the implications of finding (or not finding) it are.

3) Avoiding the planning that goes into well-thought-out scenes or story structure. Writing can be hard and/or frustrating. To do it well takes a lot of preparation. Since you have to plan eventually, why not do it instead of writing chunks?

4) Wasting time by writing material that will never be part of a completed first draft.

The more you write the easier it is to stitch pieces together. Thus, you might be able to write in chunks without producing too much or ending up with disjointed pieces that don't relate to the plot or a character's motives or dreams.

I began writing scenes or dialogue out of order when I realized my primary stalling tactic. In early works, I'd get to a point and stop, always intending to finish. Where did I leave my characters? Always (literally, always) on a mode of transport someone else controlled. Once on a city bus, another time on a subway. I must have figured that putting someone else in the driver's seat would keep the story moving. 

Didn't work. 

Finally, I finished Falling Into Place (my favorite piece, a novella) by skipping ahead and not worrying about the middle. Once I wrote much of the last third, I knew what I needed to write to take the reader to the end.

Ultimately, writing short scenes or parts of them keeps me moving. I can't say I'm stuck, because there's always something churning if I don't worry about how it will fit with everything else. You need to decide whether (for you) writing in chunks is a worthwhile tool or a delay tactic.
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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, May 21, 2023

Writing in Chunks When You're Stuck

By Elaine L. Orr

An earlier post on Irish Roots Author discussed writing scenes out of order. Why? It can keep the creative juices working when the flow for getting from action A to Action B is murky.

Scenes take a lot of thought, some authors would even say planning. They definitely need a beginning, middle, and end. Eventually they need to be placed in the most logical part of the book. But, I digress.

If a scene is more than you're prepared to write today, how about a chunk? By my definition, a chunk of writing is one of several things: a discussion between two or more characters, a dramatic segment (which does not need to include physical activity), or a short explanation of anything related to a story.

Perhaps your mind sees what a young child wears on the first day of school or what the amateur sleuth views the moment she discovers the agitated spider monkey trapped in a bread box. You don't want to lose either image. Write them -- if only a few sentences.

You may not need the chunk technique if your mind has the equivalent of dozens of paper or digital file folders and you have a good memory and you can easily get to your notebook or computer.

If you're like me, one or more of these criteria may not exist. Or, like many authors, there are many facets of your life and ideas leak out of your brain.

No matter how busy you are, you can have a three-by-five card in a pocket or note software on your phone. Jot a few sentences. Maybe half of the jots will look dumb next time you peruse them. But some will lead you to a scene or a way to express a character's motivation.

Give it a try. Check back for a blog post next week that discusses things to watch out for if you try the chunk technique.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.

Sunday, April 30, 2023

What Rules Your World?

By Elaine L. Orr

I think about what rules our lives on different days. For example, when getting ready to move, cardboard boxes and masking tape rule your world. When arriving in a new town, a map (on paper or digital) becomes most important. If you really want to learn your way around start on paper so you can see how locations relate to one another.

Today, I'm thinking about -- literally -- rulers. A teacher at the school where I substitute teach a lot had a box full of old rulers. Most were too tattered to use anymore, but they each had a story. 

Take this Strateline Ruler. Several postings indicate this ruler would have been from the 1940s or earlier. Could easily have been in the kind of one-room schoolhouse my dad's family attended in southwestern Missouri.

The two in the next phot0 -- especially the bottom one -- are more like what I used in school in the 1960s. This "newer" one was made made by Falcon in Auburn, Maine. The one pictured has no metal piece at the bottom, which later ones did. Metal was added, so it wouldn't wear out as quickly when hundreds of pencils drew a straight line with the ruler. 

The top one was made by Westcott, and is older than any of their vintage products for sale on ebay or etsy. It's very thin, not quite balsa wood thin, but close. 

What do you notice about all three of these rulers? No metric numbers.

And then we have the "New Math Ruler." That term will mean little if you're under age 60. If you're older, you were caught in the transition from 'regular math' (think long division) to what my eighth grade teacher called new math. This ruler needed two sides. One had twelve inches -- very familiar.

Then came the back side -- negative numbers and metric! What the heck? In the world I knew, something existed or it didn't. Now numbers could be negative. If you look at the top line of the ruler, there is a zero in the middle and (in half-inch increments) the numbers 1 - 12, positive and negative.

In addition to finding it hard to grasp the concept, I missed all of December that year because of a burst appendix. I pretend  that math would have remained easy for me had I not been out so much.

Now, even rulers come in cute colors. I put the metric numbers (centimeters) on top, since the entire world beyond the U.S. has the good sense to measure in units of ten.

So much for rulers ruling my thoughts Back to final edits on New Lease on Death. However you measure it, dead is dead.

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To learn more about Elaine L. Orr, visit her website or sign up for her newsletter.