Thursday, December 15, 2016


I just finished reading Writing with Quiet Hands by Paula Munier. It is a wonderful book that I can recommend to all writers.  It was towards the end that Ms. Munier provided me with an aha moment. She talked about the importance of carrying the theme through the book, and about using metaphors for that theme.   

I had never thought about it that way. I credit beginners luck for the fact that I successfully accomplished keeping the plot theme seamless in my first book, and I suspect beginners luck continues in my second.

I just printed out the first rough draft of my second Caitlyn Jamison mystery and now ask myself – what is the theme of this book? What message do I want the reader to take away? Have I been consistent with metaphors? Is the interwoven subplot consistent? Does it need to be?

And further, has my protagonist driven the story or has the story driven or overtaken her? I think the second is closer to the truth, so some rewriting, redirecting is in order.

This second go-around has provided insights that I didn’t have in the first book. I realize now that my books are character driven. The plot line I envisioned at the start of the process has changed drastically over the development of the book. That’s because the characters I created developed their own personalities and passions.

I allowed my characters freedom to explore their world, and in doing so they drove the plot line and I am very thankful they stayed true to the theme.

I have much work ahead of me to tighten the manuscript and make sure my protagonist is front and center. And time to think about answering the above questions. What exactly do I want my readers to take away from this second book?

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Getting set up for the Celebrate Holiday Bazaar
Last week I finished the first draft on my second Caitlyn Jamison mystery. As I sat back and thought about where the story had taken me, it occurred to me, once again, that my books are character driven.

Is it because my characters don’t trust me to come up with an interesting story, or is it that I am developing the characters to the point where they have minds of their own? I find some characters are more controlling than others and it’s interesting to sit back and see how their personalities develop.

Getting through the first draft was a long haul – almost a year – but that fact energized me to really dig in and fully develop the characters and the plot lines. I also want to give my readers something to think about by the end of the story.

And then, the folks I met at last Sunday’s holiday bazaar have also energized me. “Are you the author?” was the question as their faces lit up. They’d pick up the book, read the back, and then we’d talk about books and the writing process.

Sales were great, but talking with readers was even better.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Let's talk about setting

Next to plot and character, I think setting is the next most important decision a writer has to make. Setting is where the story takes place and it can be a character in itself. The setting creates the atmosphere of the book. 

Think about the geographic location (state, country, city), the terrain (midtown Manhattan, Midwest fields, San Francisco bay), buildings (is the story set in the city or rural area), weather (is it excessively hot, cold, major storms), transportation, population, economic, ethnic traditions, and time of year (spring, summer, fall, winter). Once the setting is decided, as you progress through the story make sure you stay consistent with time and place.

Don’t resort to clichés – “Dark and stormy night.”

Provide sensory details. What does the place look like, smell like. What are the shapes, colors, and textures? Use descriptive terms. “It was a nice day,” is bland. Come up with phrasing that ignites the reader’s senses.

Link details of your setting with emotions your reader might feel. What makes your setting different? What details can you provide that makes this setting unique.

Louise Penny, Deborah Crombie, and Elizabeth George (along with may other authors) do a great job of placing readers into their setting.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Packing my Author Talk Bag

I've been busy this week thinking about what I need for my Author Talk travel bag. Not that I'm traveling very far - four miles exactly to the England Run Branch Library, but I still need to tend to the details to make my presentation, whether there are three people or thirty, carefully thought out. 

I packed books, of course. Not a lot, but enough, and I will have more in the trunk of my car . . . just in case. I have a money bag with change, a zip lock bag with several pens, a small bottled water, and a stack of business cards. I am in the process of running off my handout, though I am only making ten copies.

I packed a lined pad in case I have more takers than handouts so that I can send the PDF of the handout via email to those who weren't able to get a paper copy.  

I will pop in a holder for a copy of my book and print out the price. 

Writers are always reminded to show, don't tell, and so I will have several props to use during my talk. Those are still downstairs where I practice my presentation. And each time I practice it I think of more things to share with my audience. Sigh. I'm only given an hour! And by that time those in attendance will want more of the Friends of the LIbrary's delicious refreshments. I need to stop adding!!

The last page of my handout is my writing toolbox. I certainly have used many more books than is listed here, but these are the special ones I keep close. 

My goal for the afternoon is to encourage everyone to write their story. If I can do it so can they. I hope I'm successful. 

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.

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Plot — From where do ideas come?

On Saturday, October 1 at 2:00 p.m. I will be giving an author talk at the CRRL England Run Branch. It will be fun to share my experiences in writing my first mystery. As I have reworked my Keynote presentation, many stories have come to mind. It will be my goal that day to encourage those in attendance that they, too, can write their story. 

To accomplish that goal I developed a handout. Below is some of what I learned along the way about developing plot lines. 

A story idea can come from anywhere, and sometimes from the most unexpected sources.

Keep a clipping file. That file holds clippings from newspaper/periodical articles, handwritten notes of things you have seen or heard. We’ve all heard the saying, “You can’t make this stuff up,” when we read or hear about something outrageous. I also keep a writing journal to track my progress and to jot down ideas as they come.

What did he/she just say? Everyday we come into contact with people talking about various issues. Be ready to jot down ideas that might come your way.

What subject do you feel passionate about? What do people want and how do they get it? What stands in their way?

Once a plot line (and possible subplots) is decided, character building begins. Don’t be surprised if during the process of developing the characters the plot lines change. Characters have been known to do that. A plot line has to have a beginning, middle and end.

Developing subplots. A subplot is a story within the main story. It is complete in it’s own right and serves to reinforce or divert attention from the main plot. Subplots are the story within the story and can offset the main plot or be something completely different. Either way the subplot has to be resolved by the end of the book. The subplot can feature the main characters or secondary characters. In An Unexpected Death I chose to have two subplots. One dealt with relationships, family and romantic. The romantic provides the sexual tension that readers’ like. The other subplot turned out to be the mental health issue. Subplots are woven into the story so that most readers don’t even notice. They are a way to keep the story moving, keeping readers turning pages. Subplots take the pressure off the main story, relieving tension and adding complexity. Both plot and subplot have to create tension with your characters.

The genesis of An Unexpected Death was something my sister said to me many years ago. It dealt with a little known, at that time, mental illness. That seed floated around in my head for about twenty years before it was put on paper. The environmental plot line came about by accident. It came as I developed one of the secondary characters. Relationships carry their own tension, and consequently that subplot had to be included.

So where do ideas come from?
Newspaper articles, Magazine articles, Television/Radio shows, Suggestions from family, friends, neighbors, your imagination, Everywhere!

Monday, August 29, 2016

What's Pacing?

“Pacing is the heartbeat of your story. It’s the rhythm that keeps your narrative on track, scene after scene.”[1]

Many people said after reading An Unexpected Death, “I couldn’t put it down.” That told me somehow I got the pacing right. It’s the pace that keeps the story moving, and keeps readers turning pages. So how did I do that?

I kept the chapters short.  I tried to have a strong first sentence and a strong last sentence with just enough description in between kept the story moving. 

Think of your story as having hills and valleys. As you ramp up the tension with conflicts, so too do you need to provide your readers some relief from that stress.

Paragraphs should be kept short and not bog down in the middle. When forming sentences watch for excess baggage – information that is not needed. Look for unnecessary words and phrases, and get rid of them. Make every word work!

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

Monday, August 15, 2016

What She Left Behind

It’s always exciting to discover a new author, and that’s exactly what happened a month ago. I was shelving new and returned books at our small Lodge library when I noticed a book by Ellen Marie Wiseman. The title, What She Left Behind, was similar to the Willard Psychiatric Center suitcase story, The Lives They Left Behind: Suitcases from a State Hospital Attic. When the hospital closed in 1995, the workers there discovered hundreds of suitcases abandoned in the attic of one of the buildings. The contents of the suitcases bore witness to the lives of those who were committed to that institution. To learn more about the suitcase project and even read some of the owner’s bios, check the website.

Ms. Wiseman took the event of finding the suitcases and turned it into a fictional tale of how Clara Cartwright’s father institutionalized her because she didn’t obey him. Clara’s story is set in 1929. Woven through the book is Izzy Stone’s story. Izzy is a foster child with an upsetting family background. She is pulled into volunteering for the suitcase project by her foster mother, and it is Izzy who find’s Clara’s suitcase. Izzy is intrigued with what she finds and through the process of learning more about Clara, Izzy learns more about herself and her family.

Ms. Wiseman’s first book is The Plum Tree. When I emailed to tell her how much I enjoyed the book, she replied that she had just submitted her third book to the publisher.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Checking my foundation

It’s good to take a break every once in a while and review earlier chapters. That’s on my schedule for this next week. While going through the process I will keep a number of things in mind.

If my next book is going to be successful, it has to have a strong foundation, and that means each chapter, or scene if you want to think of it that way, has to have purpose.  As I review each chapter I have to ask myself: Does the chapter have a strong first sentence – to pull the reader in; a strong last sentence – to keep the reader turning pages?

Does the chapter reveal important information about the characters/plot? If not, why is it there? I will have to either rewrite or hit the delete key.

Does the chapter move the plot forward? I believe there is a caveat with this question. Some chapters have to introduce characters, setting, and possibly provide some back story? Maybe this could be considered moving the plot forward as well as strengthening the foundation.

I need to make sure my characters face some challenge and that I don’t get bogged down in every day minutia.

I believe a book is produced in layers. The first run-through is about a story line, but doesn’t necessarily put in details of character and setting description, good dialogue, appealing to the senses. A good book is about going through the manuscript multiple times, and each time adding a layer to make the final product delectable.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Go Where Life Takes You

Trumansburg Philomatic Library June 2016
We were in Upstate New York recently for a wedding and I stopped by the Trumansburg Library. Of course I had to peek in the mystery section to see if my book had arrived back on the shelf. And there it was. Never in my life’s plan did I imagine that a story I had written would be published, and read by so many. And that so many of those readers continually ask when is the next story coming out. It’s a strange feeling to think that the book was not only well received, but readers want more. 

And so I’m working on it. I am about two thirds the way through, and am in the process of editing the first chapters. The reason is because of sleepless nights when I realized what I had planned was too much. The prologue, setting up a subplot just wasn’t working. And so last week, that thousand word plus chapter was cut out. Not gone forever. I’ve learned that when things are working, don’t delete completely. Instead, set up a clipping document and park them there. You never know when you’ll need all or part of what you've previously written. In fact, things I cut early on, I went back and retrieved parts from my clipping document.

My writing journal contains the day's date, and at what page I should start editing the next day. It also contains notes on things I need to follow up on. And if a new character appears, I make careful note of that person and his/her purpose.

The most exciting news is that Buffalo Street Books in Ithaca, New York took three of my books on consignment. If they sell, that will be a perfect venue for my Finger Lakes mysteries.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Unexpected Sources

In a murder mystery is a “murder” the lazy way out? I think not, but that was an opinion shared recently. Although I was a bit annoyed by that, it did make me think about other ways to entice my readers.

The statement was timely, because I have been unsettled by how the next book was playing out. I really didn’t want the victim to be who he was. I had become attached, and wanted more from him.

After doing some additional research, I've come up with a way to "save" him, with an interesting twist. I'm now very excited about how the book is progressing.

It only proves that ideas do indeed come from the most unexpected sources.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Self Doubt

I suspect every writer suffers from self doubt on occasion. I had an episode the other day when I read a Writers Digest article, “Countdown to a Great Chapter 1,” by Gabriela Pereira. This well written article got right to the heart of things – “…you need to make the first chapter unputdownable.”

She goes on to say, “If your whole book is an A, then Chapter 1 must be an A-plus.”

That’s when the doubt crept in. I’m trying something different with my next book, but will the planned first chapter, a prologue set in the past, pull readers in? Or will they be disappointed that I couldn’t keep the promise. I'm still debating.

Gabriela provides some helpful guidelines:
Character: “Without a central character, you don’t have a story – you have a newsreel.” This made me reevaluate how I’d plan to introduce my main characters. The way I have it written now, will readers be confused as to whom they should be rooting for?

Voice: “Voice is your writing DNA.” I figured this out for my first book. That’s what makes each author different, and according to my readers, I did a few things right!

A World: My first readers commented that they needed more descriptions of not only my characters, but of the geographic location in which my story was set. I am constantly reminded to add more details, though I admit this is a challenge for me.

A Problem:  Whatever conflict you present in Chapter 1 doesn’t have to be the main conflict, but has to relate to it in some way. That’s the challenge for writers. Keeping all those threads going towards the climax, and then being able to tie them all up in a tidy knot at the end.

An Event: No matter what genre something has to happen in Chapter 1 to keep the reader turning pages.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pixie Dust

My four year old grandson is into Peter Pan and Tinker Bell at the moment. After much thought and consideration, he told his father one morning that he didn’t think there was any pixie dust in the town where they live. I guess that could be up for debate.

Writer/agent Peter Maass talks about pixie dust as that magical substance that makes a story delightful. He poses the question: “What are you putting into your work in progress that will provide that kind of delight for your readers?” What will your pixie dust be?

A few of his pixie dust suggestions include: What foods delight you; what music transports you; what was your greatest adventure; a moment that tugged your heart. Put these emotions, tastes, smells into your writing. It is they that provide the magic.

Mr. Maass’s post has given me a lot to think about as I strive to make my next book even better.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Writing Journal

While writing my first book I used a lined pad next to my computer where I tracked my progress for each writing session. For the second Caitlyn Jamison mystery I’m doing something similar, but my notes are in a journal. I keep track of what I’ve accomplished in each writing session, as well as ideas for plot lines and character development. The book is easy to take along wherever I go, so if I see something or think of something, I can make a quick note.

In today’s writing session I rewrote Chapter One. The reason is because the characters and plot lines have developed to the point that how the characters were originally portrayed in Chapter One is no longer relevant. I had to rework them to fit into the expanded plot line and in that process I ended up splitting the chapter into two.

Today’s entry reads: “Rewrote Chapter One to better reflect story development. Split Chapter One into Steve’s thoughts; Chapter Two is Caitlyn driving north; Chapter Three is Tracy’s POV.” I then note the page number in which to begin my next session.

The journal also allows me to easily go back to revisit early notes and ideas – items that can easily be forgotten as the story line progresses.

I’m excited to have reached the halfway mark in the story! Back to writing.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Character Development

A lovely honorarium for my book talk to the Falls Run Del Webb book group

As a first time author I remain humbled by the reaction to my book, An Unexpected Death, its plot lines and characters.

I have a neighbor who has wagged her finger in my face more than once telling me she was so glad I “took on fracking.” I never meant to, really. You might call that an accidental plot line. As a writer, there are times in the process when the characters take over. They develop their personalities and sometimes that leads to plot line development.

The environmental issue came about because I needed to have Nick doing something. And then all these articles started to appear in the Economist and in the local Upstate NY newspapers about fracking. One thing leads to another, and I was able to share information about that process – never meaning to come down on one side or the other. But apparently my characters did.

I gave a book talk to a neighboring active adult community on Wednesday evening. A few women arrived early, so we were able to chat in an intimate setting. It was apparent these women were involved in the story and with the characters. They care (are concerned) about what happens to Caitlyn and Ethan. One woman asked, fearfully, about Abbie and Tim. Is she all right? The answer is yes. I was going to have the couple play a minor role in the next book, but hearing this woman’s concern about Abbie’s health, I may have them play a larger role.

I am frequently asked if I have always written.  The answer they don’t expect is no. Except for genealogy writing, this was my first attempt. I have not taken the traditional writing path.

From the questions asked on Wednesday, I will be reworking my Keynote presentation to include answers to those questions and concerns at my next scheduled talk at England Run Library on October 1.

Thank you, ladies.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Plotting Along

One of the questions asked at my author talk last week was why did I chose to develop three plots? There wasn’t time to really delve into this issue, so I gave a short, but honest answer: I didn’t think I had the experience to develop only one plot line.

That question stuck with me through the week so I went to my personal library. Fredric Brown, writing a section on plot lines for Mystery Writer’s Handbook, states, “plots aren’t ‘got,’ they are constructed.”

In An Unexpected Death, I knew one plot line, but the second one developed as I developed the character Nick. I needed him to be doing something, and as the story developed, I read articles about China and their need for energy, which changed Nick’s original role. And voilá, without prior planning, I had another plot line that lead to a surprising subplot near the end.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Author Talk and Book Signing

My first author talk at Celebrate Virginia Del Webb April 3, 2016

I survived my first book talk! The thirty-five people in attendance made me feel welcome and comfortable. Although I was nervous about giving this presentation, once the first slide went up, I was off and running, sharing experiences in writing and publishing my first mystery. 

I made sure I covered the most asked questions: How long did it take you to write this? Where do you get your ideas? I shared Summit's story, with hanky in hand, and told them how important first readers are, showing them the twelve pages of comments by one of my first readers. I also covered the pros and cons of self-publishing. 

The presentation ended with three of my favorite quotes: 
"You can't edit a blank page." Nora Roberts
"Story is character." Elizabeth George
"Description begins in the writer's imagination, but should finish in the reader's." Stephen King

The talk was hosted by the Page Turners book group, and unbeknownst to me, they brought Finger Lakes wines, cheese and crackers for everyone to enjoy during the talk. A delightful afternoon. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When Characters Take Over

A new character has popped herself into my second book. Her name is Verna Adams, and I intended her play a very minor role. She was to find the victim, and that's all.

Well, that was not what Verna wanted. Unlike Summit in An Unexpected Death, Verna is not fashioned after a real person. She was just "there," and with a strong personality I couldn't control.

As I developed that first chapter, I also developed Verna. During the process she became quite an interesting individual. A retired school marm of a certain age, she is feisty, and unbeknownst to me, has a mystery of her own to solve.

My original plan was for a new deputy to appear and cause trouble in the sheriff's office. I developed his role a bit, but now I find Verna is the stronger personality and I am going to have to let James go. With Verna's appearance I have more than enough characters to follow. 

I have learned that when characters take over, let them. They know better than the writer where they want to go with the story. Enjoy the ride.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

It Should Be About the Journey

In the second Caitlyn Jamison mystery she is back in Riverview for a few days to take photos for her friend’s winery brochure. It is Caitlyn’s misfortune that a man is found dead, under suspicious circumstances, on the day she arrives.

Writing progress has started and stopped several times because I feel I need to create a story as good or better than the last one. I believe that writers have a “contract” with their readers to educate and entertain, and not disappoint. That’s the quandary.

My writing partner and I have had several emails back and forth about this issue. She said, “You (the writer) spend all this time writing in isolation, worry, working, rewriting …and then the book is out and people are reading it and asking when the next one is coming.” She’s right!

I am so pleased that people are reading my book and enjoying the story. I have also come to realize that I should put aside the pressure, and just write, because as with the first book, the writing process should be about the journey.