What I've Been Reading and Watching

Saturday, December 28, 2019
I’ve already written a couple of end-of-year blog posts and it’s too early to write a looking-forward post, so today I’m just going to do a little ruminating on things I’ve read and watched lately. We’ve had some cold, rainy days in Tucson, which has led me to want to snuggle in my recliner with a book, my Kindle, or a movie. I see why the move to Arizona was a good one, since I’d probably accomplish nothing all winter if I still lived in the northeast.

I’ve been reading a lot of non-fiction as background and research for my historical mystery series. I rarely read non-fiction from cover to cover, instead sampling a bit here and a bit there, flipping pages to find what I need to know to write a scene. That makes it hard to write any kind of review about these books, since all the information gets muddled together.

Here is some of the fiction I’ve read this month:

The Case of the Dangerous Dowager
(Perry Mason #10)
by Erle Stanley Gardner - 5 stars

At least, Goodreads tells me I rated this one five stars. I honestly had to read the blurb to remember what this book was about. My brain is too full of my own books right now to remember what other writers have written, but I still enjoy a Perry Mason mystery, and I do remember being eager to get back to reading this one.
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Success!

Friday, December 20, 2019
Two-thousand-nineteen is ending on a high note. Within the past hour, I finished revisions on the prequel to my new mystery series. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s ready to read yet. I have to put it through ProWritingAid, which will check grammar, spelling, punctuation, and check for style issues like passive voice. And then comes the final step, where I read the entire book out loud. This serves two purposes: to check for typos that my eyes skip over because my brain knows what’s supposed to be there, and listening for cadence. Sentences have rhythm. Short sentences speed up the tempo of the story, while longer ones slow it down. Too many of either kind in a row is boring to the reader. It’s best to vary sentence and word lengths with what’s going on in a scene.

But the essence of the book is done!

Because I also finished the first draft of the first book in this series earlier this month, I’m in a terrific position to start releasing this series early in 2020. And then today, while eating lunch and watching Live PD Cam, I saw an idea for the premise of the second book in the series. This plot has me really excited. Yes, watching TV can be research for writing novels.

Six months ago, I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me I’d be looking at publishing several books in a new series. I was discouraged because my first idea for a change didn’t work out so well. I knew I’d made a wrong genre choice, I had no idea how to continue my African Violet Club mystery series, and I had no ideas for something else new. I was facing the first year in a long time when I wouldn’t publish a single new book. In other words, I was pretty close to hitting bottom as far as a writing career went.

Then three things happened.

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2019 in Review

Friday, December 13, 2019
It doesn’t seem like a whole year has gone by since I wrote up my goals for 2019 and tacked them to the bulletin board in my office. I finished 2018 by publishing the sixth book in my African Violet Club mysteries, “Holly Green Murder”, with the feeling that series had come to an end and not quite sure what I was going to write next. I thought I could write a series of cowboy romance novels, take advantage of the popularity of romance, and stretch my writing muscles. I was determined to attend the 20 Books conference for indie authors in Las Vegas in November. I was going to up my marketing game with the hopes of improving sales. Some of this happened. Some of it didn’t.

Personal Goals:

I continued my daily routine of morning prayer and devotional reading, For most of the year, I belonged to a Bible study group that required not only Bible reading, but discussion of what we read. Toward the end of the year, I realized that it was hard to keep up with that group and the homework and concentrate on my fiction-writing goals.
I continued going to Weight Watchers and, most times, an exercise group that meets three days a week in the clubhouse of my apartment community. I succeeded in losing forty pounds by following the program of healthy eating and am proud that I stuck with it through the never-ending two-month plateau before the pounds began to come off again.

Reading Goals:

I committed to reading twenty-four novels in 2019 and actually read thirty-four.
I set a goal of reading four craft books and actually read nine.
I also read at least four non-fiction books as research for my historical novels. I think there were double that number, but I don’t necessarily track those on Goodreads because I tend to read them over a long period of time and not all at once.

Writing Goals:

Write a blog post once per week. I was mostly successful at this, although there were several weeks when I had nothing to say.
Compose and send a newsletter once per month. I only missed November.
Write a total of 200,000 new words for the year. I doubted that I’d make this goal when I set it. After all, I’d only written about half that amount in prior years. But due to a commitment to write every day, I managed over 176,000 words of fiction and almost 30,000 words of blog and newsletter posts, for a grand total of 203,593 words. And that’s not counting this blog post or what else I might write in the next couple of weeks. Yay me!

Things that didn’t go so well:

I wanted to publish at least three books in 2019, hopefully four. I published none. This weighed on me through a good part of the year. After all, if you want to make money from your writing, you have to publish the books so they can sell.
But the first book I tackled was that cowboy romance. I went into it with the thought of “how hard can it be?” I’d written several romantic subplots in my mysteries and enjoyed doing them. Shifting to a story that was primarily romance, that had well-defined plot points and well-known tropes, should be easy, right? All I had to do was fill in the blanks.
Not quite.
I discovered that writing romance is a lot harder than it looks, and I developed a whole new respect for romance writers. I struggled my way to “The End’. I wound up with a hot mess that needs some serious revision to become a book someone will want to read. I also noticed that I snuck a mystery into my romance novel. I didn’t think of it as a mystery when I came up with that subplot, but by the time I finished writing the first draft, I saw what my muse had done.
Which told me that mystery really is my genre.
So I started on the historical mystery series that I’d also brainstormed off and on during the year. That has gone a lot smoother, although it’s required a lot of research into what life was like during the Gilded Age. I didn’t intend to get a history degree this late in life.
So I end 2019 with drafts of three new novels, all of which I hope to revise and publish in 2020. Not so bad after all.

By the end of the year, I hope to have my goals for 2020 firmly in place. I’m sure I will, since I’ve been listing my goals every year for over a decade. I’m looking forward to next year! I hope you are, too.
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Behind the Books of a New Series

Saturday, December 07, 2019
Old Nantasket Books

Twenty years ago, I was dating a man who lived in Hull, Massachusetts, a small town south of Boston. I was living in New York at the time, and while most weekends he traveled down to meet me, on occasion I also went to Massachusetts to visit him.

Joshua James

The town has a fascinating history. Fort Revere, formerly Fort Independence, is a Revolutionary War military installation and historic landmark that shows how far back that history goes. Off its coast is Boston Light, the oldest lighthouse in America and still functioning as a lighthouse. Hull also had a lifesaving station, now a museum, whose commander was the famous Joshua James.


Most interesting to me was that Hull was the playground of the rich before the invention of the automobile enabled people to travel to Cape Cod for a summer weekend. You can still see one of the vacation homes where John F. Kennedy spent summers in his childhood in Hull. Referred to as the Honey Fitz Mansion, it was built by John Francis Fitzgerald, two-time mayor of Boston and JFK’s grandfather. Across the street is the children’s playhouse, which is larger than many family homes today.


Eventually, because of my relationship and the need to find a new job, I moved to the South Shore of Massachusetts, and, for one dream year, to Hull itself. I’d never lived in a small town before, certainly never in one with pre-revolutionary history, and definitely not a summer town, which every year between Memorial Day and Labor Day transformed itself into something very different from what it was in winter. I was fascinated with everything about the town. Including those years during the Gilded Age when it was a microcosm of the excess and political corruption present in more well-known locations.

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