Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Journaling - There are no rules

Our Pandemic Christmas Tree. - Half of the top strand of lights went out a week after decorating the tree. This year saw low to no supply of toilet paper, then flour, then apple cider vinegar. Who would have thought white Christmas Tree lights would be unavailable in December? I found a strand of multi-colored lights in our holiday boxes that we haven't used in 20 years. They worked. Instead of being upset, I just said, "It's 2020." What else??? As we end a year to remember, or one to forget, depending on your point of view, I'm thankful I've documented the events of the year, I wrote about the bad as well as the good. In writing I could pour out my feelings - of isolation, fear (of virus, of others), tears. And thankfs for the good things. The creativity, time to figure things out. I developed a different mindset when a problem presented. Not longer anxious or frustrated, I'd think about how I could fix the problem. And if not, I accepted the fact and told myself, well, it's 2020. Keeping a journal is nothing more than recording your thoughts, feelings, observations. It can include favorite quotes, recipes, bits of gossip, poems. It can be short sentences, long paragraphs or bullet points of things you'd like to remember. There is no right or wrong way. There are no rules. No one to judge. It's just about you. Keeping a journal can help you make sense of things. And a way to document history. This is a perfect time to jot down your thoughts of the year past. Your hopes for the year to come. Goals you want to accomplish. The good things. One of the things we did through the year is call friends and relatives we don't normally call. It brighted our lives as well as theirs. Another good thing about 2020 is that we can now attend two genealogical society meetings that we couldn't before. They are now on zoom and because of that can feature national speakers.
One of Great-grandma Jessie (Tucker) Agard's journals on the left; a composition book, great for journal writing in center, and the kind of journal book I use. I'm thankful to have my great grandmother's journals that she kept from 1944 until her death in 1973 at the age of 97. Her journals give me a glimspe into her daily life as a farm wife. I hope that my journals, at some point in the future, will give another generation a glimpse into my life, especially how we managed through the Pandemic of 2020 and beyond.

Friday, November 13, 2020

Marketing 101

The Rappahannock Writers Conference held virtually last Saturday went off without a hitch, thanks to our talented CRRL librarians. The speakers did an amazing job traversing the new technology challenges. One of the questions that I didn’t have time to answer enough was on marketing. It was almost like, where do I begin. So, I’ll post this on my blog and website and hope the person who asked the question will find it. I hope all aspiring writers know by now that no matter how you decide to publish – traditional with an agent, hybrid, or Indie, it’s up to the author to do the marketing. In one of the sessions on publishing, the speaker stated that shelf life of a book in a book store is three months. Three months. The author has to work very hard to market their books to drive sales. When I self-published my first book, I had no idea where to start. I sent a note to most of my email contacts, and posted the book on my Facebook page. Since that time with books number two and three, I’ve expanded my marketing. I list on Sisters-in-Crime website, my blog post, website, LinkedIn, make bookmarks, get articles/interviews in local papers, library/ book group presentations, search for events where I can sell books (pre/post Covid), and Goodreads. This list changes and is added to with each book I publish. Some authors sponsor launch parties, send out newsletters, buy Amazon or Goodreads ads, drawings for a free copy. There are many ways to market and each author has to find their own way. Marketing is a whole other skill set that we all have to learn. Presentations to library groups can be such fun. Below is a photo of me talking with the Lansing, New York library patrons.

Monday, November 2, 2020

Understanding Scenes in Memoir Writing

On Saturday November 7 I will be giving a presentation on writing scenes at a virtual Rappahannock Writers Conference. Registration is open to anyone, anywhere at There’s a great line-up of speakers and a panel on publishing. The sessions will remain available on the library’s website through Nov. 14 for those who cannot make it on Saturday. My presentation, Scenes: The Essential Ingredient, is about understanding that scene writing is critical for any type/genre of prose you are writing, including memoirs. I describe scenes as: A sequence where a character or characters engage in some sort of action and/or dialogue. Scenes should have a beginning, middle and end (a mini-story arc), and should focus around a definite point of tension that moves the story forward. Or: individual story units smaller than chapters (but somewhat self-contained), show us sequences of actions and incidents that reveal place and time, characters’ actions, reactions or dilemmas. Basically, scenes are the building blocks of your story. Like any book the first or launch scene is the most important and will also be the most difficult to craft. It needs to capture the interest of the reader and give the reader a reason to continue. It helps to think of your memoir as a movie. The summary is the wider camera view. A scene is more of a close-up when you slow down the pace, express emotions, sights, sounds, smells – the five senses. Each scene is like a mini-story and when added together make up the whole. Before you jump into writing, take some time to plan. What do you want to accomplish? Who will be your audience – and that can be just you. Will your memoir have a theme or will it be a collection of life stories? Who will be the narrator – this is called Point of View.

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Living History and Journal Writing

In March 2020 our lives changed. It happened so fast. We were enjoying having our grandchildren visit us in Florida. They rented a golf cart, biked around the island, went parasailing. But within two days our world fell apart. Our son and daughter-in-law were afraid their airport would close and they wouldn’t be able to get home. They packed up in a hurry and left. I was devastated. Then photos of empty grocery store shelves across the country appeared in social media and in newspapers. Fear of others, fear of going out overcame us. I made quick trips to Publix to stock up on non-perishables to take home with us. Paper goods and cleaning products were nowhere to be seen. Nothing like this had happened in our lifetime. Not since the 1918 Pandemic. Years ago my husband and I heard a talk by historian David McCullough. He said, if you want to be remembered, keep a journal. We took his advice seriously. For the last nine months I’ve documented the Novel Covid-19 pandemic, at least as it has affected our lives. We are living history, and it’s important to capture how this event has changed your life, and will continue to do so. This is a great chapter for your memoirs. In time, we hope, the pandemic will be behind us. What you and your family went through during this year or more will be invaluable family history.
One paragraph in my memoir titled “2020” states:’ By Friday, March 20, social distancing announced. Manatee beaches closed with the hope that tourists and college age kids return home. Although beaches closed, if you can get to the beach, you can be on it with limited number of ten. Island emptying out. Counted only five planes coming into Sarasota airport. CT, NY, NJ closing all non-essential businesses.”

Friday, October 30, 2020

Before the Library Burns

My brother, Skip and I ready for school I have volunteered to facilitate the memoir writing group virtually through the library. BC (before Covid), our small group met at the library, and during one of those sessions I learned there are different definitions of memoirs. One train of thought is that a memoir is a written account of one theme running through a person’s life. Let’s say you loved drawing and painting since you were young. You followed your dream, your passion to be an artist, but there were bumps along the way. Maybe your parents thought it was a foolish waste of time, or refused to pay for art school. And then there are the blue ribbons you won for your artwork. Another definition is: a narrative composed from personal experience. When I wrote my “memoirs” in a writing group during the early 2000s, I wrote individual chapters for each experience. What my home looked like, my best friend, Thanksgivings, and how other holidays were celebrated. I’ve decided to call my next group of memoir writing – Life Stories. A woman in my library memoir writing group has titled her book “Before the Library Burns,” referring to the fact that when she is gone, her life experiences, if not written down and shared with family, will be lost forever. We can’t let that happen to our families. Writing advice tells us to write what you know; start with yourself; start with action. Or, write down story topics: When/where you were born, your parents, special memories of your grandparents/aunts/uncles; your favorite toy; accomplishments you are most proud of; turning points in your life; family traditions/culture; holidays; pets; jobs; military service; education. On this last point, from first to third grade I attended a rural two-room school. Our school “bus” was a station wagon. That’s an experience my children and grandchildren will never have. Nor will they feel what it was like to swim across Cayuga Lake at the age of twelve. Or, growing up in a restaurant. These are all stories I’ve captured for them in my first volume of memoirs. Take each of the above suggestions, or think of your own, in no particular order and start writing. As you go through that process, more memories will come. Most of all, have fun.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Rappahannock Writers Conference - November 7, 2020

The Central Rappahannock Regional Library, in partnership with the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA is hosting its 3rd annual writing conference. Due to the Pandemic, this year the conference will be virtual. The registration link went live today. I will be giving a presentation on writing scenes. They are the building blocks, the DNA, the essential elements of any prose genre.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman

It’s launch day for #TheOrphanCollector by Ellen Marie Wiseman, a moving and timely novel set during the 1918 influenza pandemic! Order your copy anywhere books are sold: Autographed copies are available from @RiversEndBookstore too!

Several years ago I read Ellen Marie Wiseman's book set at the Willard State Hospital in Upstate New York, "What She Left Behind." This book was of great interest since my ancestors lived near the hospital, and some worked there.

Ms. Wiseman is a gifted writer and I am honored to help her launch her latest book, set, ironically, during the 1918 pandemic.

Please consider purchasing a copy, and note that a signed copy is available from Rivers End Bookstore (link above).

Check Ellen's website for her other titles.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Women as bright as Stars - by Rosemary Rowland

I started writing when I wanted to share my genealogy research. Encouraged during a session at the New England Regional Genealogical Social conference to write it up and share it now - I took one ancestral line, researched as much as I could of each person, and turned that research into a readable paragraph. My first attempt at a monograph was put together for a family gathering of the Agard family. I then followed up with a monograph on the Hardenbrook family, and then my father's line, the Nunn family. This process honed by writing skills and made it easier when I turned my hand to writing mysteries.

Rosemary Rowland has taken a slightly different approach. Realizing that women, for the most part, are left out of history, it was her goal to research, document, and feature the women who lived in the rural community of Newfield, New York during the 19th century.

Her writing is beautiful, crisp and clear. Her book will encourage anyone writing a non-fiction book.

If you wish to obtain a copy, contact Rosemary directly at:

Friday, May 1, 2020

Reimaging and Moving On

The Novel Covid-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. We are beginning to accept the fact that this is our new normal—social distancing, wearing masks in public places, and most of all, learning/adapting to new lifestyles to strengthen our immune systems. Of everything that we now have to do, strengthening our immune systems is probably the most important. And this has been my biggest frustration. The daily press briefings provide a perfect opportunity for our government leaders and health professionals to educate the American public on healthier eating choices, exercises, and alternative ways to strengthen the immune system. Why aren't they?

But I digress. The pandemic brought a sudden halt to the suspense story I had been working on for the last year and a half. I had 30,000 words written of the carefully thought out plot line. The story, set in Savannah, Georgia, was about a super virus developed in a China biotech firm by an American pharmaceutical company. One of the firm’s vice presidents would release a small amount of the live virus, and when the CEO of the pharmaceutical company resigned because of that, the antidote and vaccine would be revealed and the vice president would be named CEO. My characters, former WHO doctor Alaina Carter and Detective Denton Parker were the main characters.

You see the problem. Novel Covid-19 stole my plot line. No one would read my story when they had lived through, or were still living through the nightmare. Can I sue China for copyright infringement? Probably not. [Smile]

The situation caused some doldrums until I decided not to be defeated. I started my fourth Caitlyn Jamison mystery and love getting back with these characters. I’m trying a different story line that I hope will work. If not, then I’ll readjust. I am also sketching out a completely different suspense story for Alaina and Denton to pursue.

I am reimaging like all businesses are going to have to do to survive in the new normal. I am also moving on with my stories. I am not going to let Novel Covid-19 defeat me. And you shouldn’t either.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Reading, Writing, and Coincidence

Can a writer really go on vacation? I can’t seem to accomplish that. Characters from both books travel with me, whispering in my ear. Readers send messages asking when the next Caitlyn Jamison mystery will come out. And I thought Caitlyn and Ethan were due a vacation. Wrong.

The suspense story featuring Alaina Carter and Denton Parker is developing nicely, but with interest and encouragement from readers in another Caitlyn Jamison adventure, I’ve started research on that next book.

I’m excited about the plot line I’ve come up with and only hope Caitlyn and Ethan will be as well. It’s fun to see where the characters take my idea. I’ve learned to not try to control the story, just go along for the ride.

I read. A lot. Mostly mysteries, but some non-fiction, and because one of my neighbors, Hope Ramsey, AKA Robin Lanier, is a best selling USA Today author, I am reading and enjoying her romance books.

In a previous blog I wrote about serendipity vs coincidence and how each of my Caitlyn Jamison plot lines just happened to turn into important environmental or social issues. This morning I had chills as I read about the horrible accident at the NASCAR race yesterday that seriously wounded driver Ryan Newman. I got chills because yesterday afternoon when reading Hope Ramsay’s 2011 book, “Home at Last Chance” where on page 227 she wrote a scene that was almost identical to what happened to Mr. Newman yesterday. Her character, Tulane Rhodes is a race car driver, trying for a win when his back bumper was hit and he went flying. As I read the paper this morning, I thought, “Gee, I just read almost the same scene yesterday in a book. Except Ms. Ramsay’s character, Tulane, came out much better than Mr. Newman. 

Coincidence? I have no idea . . . 

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Character Development

West end of Forsyth Park, Savannah, GA  
The setting for my new suspense story is Savannah, Georgia. The protagonist, Alaina Carter lives around the corner from where this photo was taken. Her house is one of the many Victorian "mansions" that line the north side of the street bordering the park. When she gazes out her second story home office window, this is the type of view she has, large trees with clinging Spanish moss. There is one way traffic around the park.

Over the last few days, I've been better developing Alaina's back story as well as that of the antagonist, Peter Doyle. I realized that poor Peter was just a stick figure with no flesh to be seen! I've been giving him a lot of thought and realized that the reason for his actions had to be more than power. There had to be something deeper driving him. And it was personal. I've reworked the first chapter, fleshing Peter out so that readers will be able to connect with him. I learned early on that even "bad" guys can have good attributes.

Monday, February 3, 2020


Each one of my Caitlyn Jamison mysteries has been serendipitous. In An Unexpected Death I wanted environmental issues as my main plot line. At first I hadn’t defined what that issue would be, but as my characters were developed, and the story took shape, I started to see articles about hydraulic fracturing. Since my mystery was set in the Finger Lakes Region of Upstate New York, following this environmental issue was a natural. Between articles in the Economist and the local New York papers, I had plenty of material from which to draw.

Then I embarked on my second book, Fatal Dose. I wanted to do something different. The opioid issue was beginning to be a social issue, so I chose that. Again, as the characters and plot line were developed, the opioid epidemic exploded and was all over the news. Again, a lot of research material.

For the third book, The Death of Cassie White I wanted to deal with a little known topic in which I could educate my readers. I mean, how many people knew about the vast uranium deposit in southwestern Virginia? I thought that would be a unique plot line. And it was. Except. When I was well into the book, an article appeared in our local Fredericksburg, Virginia paper describing how a mining company was trying to get the uranium ore mining moratorium put in place by the Virginia legislature in the 1980s overturned. Yikes!!! Serendipitous.

Well over a year ago I decided to write a suspense story. The setting would be Savannah, Georgia. Maybe I’d work in some ghosts. I needed an interesting, but scary plot line. My mind went back to about 2005 when I attended a library program on pandemics. The presentation was by a local doctor who was part of a team consisting of doctors in Western Connecticut and New York to educate the public and develop plans for - not if but when - a pandemic hits. The talk was fascinating. Dr. Dworkin explained how sickness would be a domino effect as truck drivers fell ill (cutting down on delivery of goods), water treatment plant employees not coming to work, the number of potentially ill people needing hospital beds versus how many actual beds are available in area hospitals. It was eye opening and scary. I went home and started my pandemic pantry, which Dr. Dworkin suggested hold enough food for three months. This, of course, would include all supplies you might need, medicines, pet food, etc. 

Over a year ago I decided this subject would be the plot line for my new book. 

Is it serendipitous that as I am well into my story we are faced with a possible pandemic from the corona virus? 

Lesson learned - be careful of future plot line decisions.