Monday, June 10, 2019

Riverside Writers Presentation - Do what's right for you

On Saturday, 8 June 2019 a Sister in Crime, Mary Behre, and I did a mini panel on writing to the members of the Riverside Writers group in Fredericksburg, VA. Mary writes The Tidewater Series, Humor, Suspense, and a Psychic Love-Connection. She has traditionally published four books and I have self-published two, working on two more. 

The panel worked well due to the fact of our age difference, publishing preference, and varied experiences with marketing. 

We took turns introducing ourselves and sharing how we got into writing. We then went into our personal writing process, publishing, and marketing.

The message I conveyed to the group was to do their homework when considering publishing options. Understand what the author is responsible for, what the royalties will be, and when they are paid. Mary and I stressed the fact that no matter how you decide to publish, the AUTHOR has to do their own marketing. If the author is not out there doing signings, presentations, active with social media, the books will not be sold; the author will not be paid. Someone asked where Mary had done signings and she listed several states. When that person asked if her publisher set those up, Mary laughed. Not - she had to do the work herself. 

I shared a recent experience with KDP. I realized that my first book, An Unexpected Death, only showed a Kindle version on Amazon. Months ago I had successfully brought my books over from CreateSpace to KDP. How did that happen? At 4:30 p.m. I sent an email off to KDP. At 6:30 I received a phone call, but when I saw it was a Seattle number, I thought it was a Robo call and I didn't answer. A message was left. A rep from KDP wanted more information on my issue. He said he would keep working and would send an email. At 8:30 p.m. I received an email telling me the issue was resolved. My trade paperback and Kindle weren't linked-an Amazon website problem. But the point is, I've had only great customer service experience with CreateSpace and now KDP. 

When I talked about formatting, and how I format as I go since I'm a visual person, Mary asked if I used Scrivener. She does; I don't. I'm happy with Word, and have heard reports that there is a learning curve with Scrivener, which was confirmed by someone in the audience. If one has the time and patience, then Scrivener is deemed to be a great product. 

I think we left the Riverside Writers group with a lot to think about and I hope we were helpful.  

* Do your homework before you make publishing decisions and do what's right for you.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Book Progress Update

We were in the Adirondacks in May for a fundraising hike with our daughter. About every three miles there was an Oasis with water, fruit, and a porta potty. At the second Oasis a woman approached me and said, "How is the next book coming?" The pressure is on :).
I’m embarrassed to see that I haven’t posted a book progress report on this blog since mid-December. So what have I been doing?

The answer is: Writing.

Over the last five months I’ve worked hard to finish the third Caitlyn Jamison mystery. Readers have not been shy about asking how I’m coming on the next book. What they don’t realize is that each book gets harder to write—developing new (interesting) plot line(s), new (interesting) characters, and the challenge of meeting reader expectations. Last week I finished a draft that I felt good enough to share with three beta readers.

Prior to that, I edited the manuscript on my computer screen, had the UPS store run a hard copy (233 8-1/2 x 11 pages), read it aloud, and made notes on items that had to be checked or resolved. I found several overused words: so, able, know, was, photo, think, skeletal. I'm sure there are more, and I will keep looking.
I started with the last chapter and put each through software for diagnostics. Prowritingaid caught issues that I hadn't, and I really appreciate the fact it now picks up missing end quotes.

What else?
In a previous post I mentioned a new character residing on my shoulder and wanted her story told. The character’s name evolved to “Alaina.” Alaina is retired special ops and lives in Savannah, Georgia. Her former partner draws her back into action and the story takes off. While CJ3 is with beta readers, I hope to make great progress on this new suspense story. It doesn’t have a title, so I’m calling it my Savannah story.

For more information check my website: I have a blog and Caitlyn’s News on the site.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019


First Memoir Book birth to marriage
In 2004 I belonged to a memoir writing group at the C.H.Booth Library in Newtown, CT. The group was comprised of about six women. Each had a different story to tell; each had their own particular style and voice. Without saying we understood what was shared stayed in that room. 

It is now fifteen years later and I've successfully convinced the Central Rappahannock Regional Library to start a memoir writing group. The library has a growing Inklings Writing Group, Fiction Critique Group, Poetry Writing Group and Science Fiction Writing Group. Each of those has between four and ten participants. When the Memoir Group did a soft launch to a limited audience, seventeen people immediately signed up. I missed the first session held in March, but attended the second one in April. Ten women attended and it was the most inspiring meeting. The librarian in charge did an amazing job of laying down the ground rules. Besides the "stays in the room" rule, she explained the critique as the "sandwich effect." First a positive comment, then suggestions/questions on how the piece could be improved or clarified, and finish with another positive comment, i.e. "Love your piece. Can't wait to hear more."

I've found that a level of trust has to be gained before I will share my work. With this group I jumped right in. I felt secure as did others as they shared some of their most emotional events. I left the session energized, so much so that I purchased a colorful 3-ring binder, section dividers, developed a draft table of contents of writing prompt ideas, chose a title and photo for the front of my binder. 

I pulled out my notes from November 2004 and will share them at the next session. Some of those memoir writing notes are: Writing journal for ideas, images, dreams. Make a timeline of your life, starting at birth to present day. Note major events. What are you passionate about? What event happened in your life that "changed everything." Think of themes-jobs, houses you lived in, sibling relationships. 

Consider the scenes that make up your life. This can be in the form of a table of contents as I have done, or an outline that you can drill down on as memories come flooding back. 

I'm capturing memories of fifty years ago, so my first draft was just that. It took time for more memories to come back that provided more detail for my piece. I revised my memoir piece several times and it will probably be revised even more as details come to mind. I next have to see if I've saved photos/postcards from our life in Chicago and our California trip.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Writing is Like Painting a Beautiful Picture

Like a fine painting, an author adds layers of details through each subsequent draft.

When the first draft of the third Caitlyn Jamison mystery was complete, I converted the manuscript into 6 x 9 format – the same size the finished book will be. The benefit of size conversion is to see how the paragraphs look on the page, check for widows and orphans, see how dialogue appears, and to have an accurate final page count. It allows the author to read like a "reader," and not like a "writer."

Reading a 6 x 9 format allows for better layering. Like a fine painting, an author adds layers of details through each subsequent draft. And like a painting, each layer of detail and description makes the book fuller, richer, more vibrant.

This process allows the author to better know the characters, which can create problems if that character doesn’t turn out how the author originally intended. In Fatal Dose, as I added layers to the story, some characters demanded different roles. And too, with this third in the series, The Death of Cassie White, one character was only a means to an end. But as I layer on the "colors" of the story, I need to develop this character more fully. 

So for an author who loves the writing process, this is all in a day’s work.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Writing Handout with things I learned along the way

Writing hints and stuff I learned along the way
© Mary Maki 2018

From where do ideas come? Anywhere – Newspaper/magazine articles, Television/Radio shows, trending social issues, life experiences, and your imagination.

What are you passionate about? What’s your story really about? What’s at stake for each character?

Genre (Where will your book be placed in a bookstore or library?), setting, characters, plot line (s), and timeframe. Will you be a plotter or pantser or both?

Character Development
Elizabeth George’s book On Writing, states, “Story is Character.” Give them flaws; have them doubt themselves. Let them grow and change by the end of the book. Write a bio for each character. You need to know everything about the characters—physical attributes (hair and eye color, height, weight, age, etc.) mental condition, family background, and occupation. Think of character analysis as physical, psychological and sociological. Once you have created a bio for your main characters you will know how they will respond in different situations. Secondary characters are just as important to develop. They should be strong. Avoid stereotypes. Don’t be surprised when characters take over.

Scenes – Think three-act play – When setting up your story think of it in three parts, beginning when you set up the action, middle when the action peaks, and end when story lines are brought to fruition. Within the acts are the scenes where the action takes place. Every scene has to move the story forward.

Point of View
Point of view is the distance between your characters and your readers.
First Person is the most intimate point of view and will draw readers emotionally into our character’s experience. “I” pronoun is used.
Second Person is even more intimate because readers get into the characters’ thoughts. It is used to draw readers in close. “You” pronoun is used.
Third Person is recognized by the use of “she” or “he.” This point of view is divided into two forms: Omniscient and limited. Third person limited is the most practical as it sticks to one character’s point of view at a time.
** The challenge is to not mix and match point of view so that the readers don’t get confused as to who is talking. One POV per scene.

Dialogue moves the story forward, sets the tone, creates tension, and a sense of time and place. It provides information and action. Dialogue reflects the speaker, their vocabulary, and speech patterns.

“Pacing is the heartbeat of your story. It’s the rhythm that keeps your narrative on track, scene after scene.”[1]
Think of your story as having hills and valleys. As you ramp up the tension with conflicts, you also need to provide readers relief from that stress. [This could be when your subplot comes in.] Paragraphs should be kept short with various sentence lengths. Paragraphs should not bog down in the middle. When forming sentences watch for excess baggage, i.e. information not needed. Look for unnecessary words and phrases, and get rid of them. Make every word work!

Editing – Listen to the Music
Read out loud: That’s where the music comes in. Writing is not only visual. “The words you write make sounds, and when the sounds satisfy the reader’s ear, your writing works.”  The combination of correct words and length in a sentence creates a sound that will please a reader’s ear. When reading your manuscript aloud, you will hear the sour notes.

Publishing – Main Stream (Traditional) or Self-Publish – Or don’t publish at all– It’s a personal choice
Mainstream Publishing
You will need an agent. Check the library’s edition of The Writer’s Market for agents accepting queries in your genre. Read the instructions carefully. What kind of books does the agency represent? Follow directions to the letter. Learn how to write query letters. (How to Write Attention-grabbing Query & Cover Letters, by John Wood, 808.02 Wo) Be ready to accept rejection and most of all keep trying. When an agent accepts your manuscript, he/she will shop your book to publishing houses. If one of them buys the book, you will then face contract negotiations. You may need to hire a lawyer to protect your interests. Your book will be put in the queue and you may wait a year or more to publication.

Self-Publishing with CreateSpace
CreateSpace is an excellent option for self-publishing. The site offers easy step-by-step instructions for loading the manuscript and cover. It provides excellent customer service, shows the royalty structure, and distribution options. CreateSpace’s internal review process alerts the author to issues that might effect publication. [Set up a separate bank account for royalties to be deposited.] Downside: It is up to you to have a perfect manuscript and cover art. If you don’t have qualified beta readers, hire an editor.

Marketing – That other hat to wear
Whether you mainstream publish or self publish, you will have to do your own marketing. This is where social media is important. Author website, blog, LinkedIn, email contacts of family/friends, guest blogs, book festivals, craft fairs, newspaper articles, library author tables/presentations. Wherever you can get your name and books out to connect with readers.

My Writing Toolbox
Bell, James Scott, Plot and Structure. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2004.
George, Elizabeth, Write Away. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2004.
King, Stephen, On Writing; A memoir of the Craft. Scribner, New York, 2000.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Evidence Explained; Citing history sources form artifacts to cyberspace.
     Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD, 2009.
Munier, Paula, Plot Perfect.  Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2014.
Munier, Paula, Writing with Quiet Hands. Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2015.
Provost, Gary, Make Your Words Work. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1990.
Roberts, Gillian, You Can Write a Mystery. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999.
Rosenfeld, Jordan, Make a Scene. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2017.
Writer’s Digest – Subscribe to get all the latest information on the writing process.

[1] Pereira, Gabriela. “Climax and Conclusion,” Writer’s Digest, October 2016, p. 54.

Writing Mysteries

 When I read the fall quarterly CRRL @YourLibrary publication this summer, I realized I was scheduled to make a presentation on writing mysteries to each of the library's three Inklings Writing Groups. And I was only to happy to do this. The handout follows below, but I told them that although it is critical to keep learning the craft of writing, sometimes rules need to be broken. Writing is first and foremost about YOUR creativity.  

The question I am often asked is: "What's the difference between a mystery and thriller?" The question should be: "What the difference between a mystery, suspense and thriller?"

At the recent CRRL Writers Conference, Traci Hunter Abramson described the differences with the bomb comparison: 
Mystery - The bomb has gone off - protagonist has to find out who done it
Suspense - Reader knows about bomb; protagonist doesn't
Thriller - Lost of bombs; lots of action

I told the group to put the word "usually" in front of everything I say, because sometimes our stories don't exactly fit the mold.

Mystery is a genre of fiction usually involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved. Often with a closed circle of suspects, each suspect is usually provided with a credible motive and a reasonable opportunity for committing the crime.

Mystery Subgenres:

Traditional: A mystery must have certain elements to be considered a mystery.  Essentially, a mystery will have a puzzle or secret, or layers of puzzles or secrets, a setting that fits the type of book, a sound motive, red herrings, and clues. Most traditionally accepted mysteries have a murder. This is the element that compels people to keep reading. (Think Agatha Christie)

Cozy: Traditional cozies are light, sometimes humorous, slow paced (as compared to the other categories), the murder (usually quite civilized) and sex happen off scene, and the solving of the crime is a battle of wits between the reluctant amateur sleuth and the villain. The setting is most often in a small town or community and the sub-characters are quirky and fun. The sleuth falls into the mystery by accident or circumstance and uses common sense/gray cells to solve the crime. Usually first person. (Think Janet Evanovich)


Hard Boiled
The hard boiled mystery is a detective story with attitude and action. It’s a tough mystery that takes place in a city or urban setting. It’s gritty. It’s violent. The blood and violence (and sex) takes place on screen. Usually the detective is a professional who’s been hired to investigate. Usually first person with a bare-bones or abrupt narrative style. This is not your emotional mystery. (Think Raymond Chandler or Michael Connelly)

Soft Boiled
The soft boiled mystery falls somewhere between the hard boiled and the cozy. It’s not as violent as the hard boiled, but can have more on scene than the cozy. Many soft boiled mysteries have humorous elements. The detective can be a professional or amateur. Misa’s Lola Cruz Mystery Series is an example of soft boiled. Janet Evanovich is also soft boiled (with some caper thrown in).

Police Procedural
The detective/sleuth in a police procedural is almost always a law enforcement agent of some sort. The details of the mystery plot are the focus, as opposed to the heavier character development of the other categories. The term police procedural is used because the procedures are detailed and accurate. Rules must be followed and crime details are key. (Think PD James and Tony Hillerman)

Think hard about the kind of details, POV, setting, level of violence in your book and how to categorize it. Not every book fits neatly into a category, but you should be able to see it in one of these categories (even if you have to push or shove a little bit!). Just a caveat, things that aren’t easily marketable–meaning your agent or editor doesn’t know how to explain what it is–are less likely to sell. If you can categorize your book, in general, all the better.

In a thriller, "who done it" is usually known to the reader, and often times to the main character. The goal is not to solve a mystery, but rather to catch a criminal, or stop a crime from being committed. A thriller is a mystery that de-emphasizes cerebration, and emphasizes action and suspense. The protagonist is in danger from the outset.

Subgenres: Legal, Medical

Suspense: the main character may become aware of danger only gradually. In a mystery, the reader is exposed to the same information as the detective, but in a suspense story, the reader is aware of things unknown to the protagonist. The reader sees the bad guy plant the bomb, and then suffers the suspense of wondering when or if it will explode. Suspense gives a feeling of pleasurable uncertainty.

Mysteries have the same basic elements as all prose
Plot/storyline/your reason for writing
Suspense/Action/ What’s at stake/Hold readers’ attention/
Hook the reader on the first page

Character Rules:
Character bios – protagonist and supporting characters (not too many)
Each character should have a role
Mirror characters – the protagonist needs someone to talk to, bounce ideas off of
Avoid stereotypes
Be ready for your characters to take over and change the story

Develop your protagonist:
What crime (or bad thing) has been committed and needs to be solved.
Who is he/she? Why does your protagonist care about the crime? Make it personal.
What is your protagonist’s problem, goal, need, desire?
What are his/her motives for solving the crime and what resources will he/she need?
What obstacles stand in his/her way? Develop a crisis point.
Show readers something your protagonist wants, and then threaten it.
Build tension. Get into each character’s head. How would they react in any situation?
How will your characters change by the end of the book?

Point of view (POV)
Dialogue – keep crisp, clear
Plotter or Pantser? Do you plan ahead, outline, or just write and see what happens?
What is this story about? What do I want this story to be about? Keep asking that question.
Red herrings – suspects/clues/misdirection – but play fair
Pacing – give your readers a break! After a fast-pace chapter, slow it down
Research – Readers are smart, and will catch any little detail you’ve gotten wrong
Editing – make every word work

Think of your story as a three act play – setting the stage, climax, tying up plot lines
How will the story end? Write the ending first.

My Writing Toolbox

George, Elizabeth, Write Away. Harper Collins, New York, NY, 2004.
King, Stephen, On Writing; A memoir of the Craft. Scribner, New York, 2000.
Lamott, Anne, Bird by Bird. Anchor Books, New York, 1994.
Mills, Elizabeth Shown, Evidence Explained; Citing history sources form artifacts to cyberspace. Genealogical Publishing Company, Baltimore, MD, 2009.
Munier, Paula, Plot Perfect.  Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2014.
Munier, Paula, Writing with Quiet Hands. Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2015.
Provost, Gary, Make Your Words Work. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1990.
Roberts, Gillian, You Can Write a Mystery. Writers Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 1999.
Stone, Todd A., Novelist’s Boot Camp; 101 Ways to take your book from Boring to Bestseller. Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, Ohio, 2006.
The Chicago Manual of Style, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL. 14th Edition, 1993.
Writer’s Digest – Subscribe to get all the latest information on writing process, finding agents, best websites, and unlimited how-to’s for writing.  []
Dictionary and Thesaurus

Monday, October 8, 2018


For the October Fiction Writing Critique Group meeting at the Howell Branch Library, I prepared this handout, thanks to great articles from Writers Digest and Jane Friedman's blog.  I also wanted folks to get started thinking about NANOWRIMO. And to encourage them to plan their own writing goal for the month of November.
NANOWRIMO – th.jpg Do It Your Way th.jpg

·      NANOWRIMO begins 1 November 2018 – one month, 50,000 words (1,167/day)
·      Our writing goals don’t always fit the mold
·      Make a writing commitment and then make a plan
·      Set your own/reasonable goals
·      Partner with a friend
·      Utilize the library’s NANOWRIMO space – days and times will be announced
·      As a Fiction Critique Group let’s state and track our progress
·      Why wait? Start now!

Showing rather than telling is part of the magic that you have to work as a writer. In fact, it’s one of the most vital parts. Your reader has to make his way through your story or novel and then finally come away from it with a sense of characters and settings.

Example: “The city suffered significant damage in the blast.” [Too cold, too distant, too all-inclusive]
Instead: “Among the ruins, the reflection of the sun on the pieces of broken glass on the road was so strong that it was difficult to hold your head up as you walked. The smell of death was a little fainter than the day before, but the places where houses had collapsed into tile-covered heaps stank vilely and were covered with great, black swarms of flies.”

In To Kill a Mockingbird, never does Scout say her father is a good man. But throughout the novel, we know it; at the end, one of the strongest images is his goodness.

If your character is a fireman – you could say, “His job was exciting.” Or, you could say, “His heart rate elevated when his truck approached a fire.”

Balancing Act: * Your fiction has to be a balanced blend of both show and tell.*

Keep description short; get specific. “It was a beautiful sunset,” says nothing.
Describe a person through another character’s eyes;
Sprinkle description throughout the story;
Utilize the senses – sight, smell, touch, sound, taste
Setting is character; [Louise Penny’s Three Pines; Jan Karon’s Mitford] The truer your setting, the more believable will be the fictional world you invite your reader to enter. Setting can also set the mood or tone of your story, time period of your story.

“Readers’ love writing that brings the world in your head to life in theirs.” [Elizabeth Sims/WD Jan 2013]

* When describing people, stay away from hair and eye color, as well as height and weight. Many writers make the mistake of describing their characters like the people in a police blotter. Think, instead, about the way you might describe your friends. Do you know the height and weight of your friends? Do you ever think about their eye color? These features are not as interesting as other, more complex descriptors. Consider your characters' gestures, the shape of their facial features, their gait, their dimples, their scars, the way they laugh, the quality of their teeth, their stance, their fashion sense, their odor, their vocal tone, and so on.

*Think in terms of "telling details": details that let the reader see your characters while also revealing something about their minds. In this way, your descriptions can do double duty: giving the reader a physical picture while also showing an inner, mental trait. If a woman has unkempt, flyaway hair, that lets the reader see her, and it also reveals something about the character's sense of self and level of vanity. If a man has rimless, tinted glasses and a dry, taut mouth, that lets the reader see him, and it also reveals a lot about the character's personality.

*Each new scene in a story should have at least one paragraph of description to clarify where the characters are and who is present. This should happen fairly early in the scene. Whenever your readers are unsure about the physical logistics of the story, they will be unable to fully suspend their disbelief and dive in; they will be too busy trying to figure out what's going on. You never want your readers to be unsure about who, what, when, and where. Give us the situation right away. Tell us who is in the room. Locate your story in a distinct place and time.

*Too much description can bog down a story, but not enough can have the opposite effect, making the characters seem weightless and detached from reality. However, this is something to think about only during the process of revision. You should not worry about it while actively writing something new. When it comes to description, finding the right balance will take time, space, and the clarity of mind that comes from editing a finished piece, not creating a new one. While you're actively writing, don't worry about whether you're using too much or too little description. Feel free to try things and make mistakes. When in doubt, write more description than you think you'll need. You can always take things out afterward. [Abbi Geni/Jane Friedman blog 3 June 2016]