October 13, 2021 - I Found the Plot

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees.

Today I decided I should make the effort to find the notes I made when I was first planning this book. Since I was certain I’d already looked through the notebooks on my desk, I pulled each of the spiral-bound notebooks off my book shelf and went through them looking for my scribbles. I didn’t find anything. So back to my desk to try to recreate whatever it was.

Except first, I went through all the pages in the first notebook with writing on them and discovered what I had was there. I also discovered I didn’t have as much as I thought I did. I’d come up with a sort-of motive for each of my suspects, but not a strong motive. Except, of course, for the actual killer. I thought I’d better work harder on the other suspects.

I also decided that I needed to give my actual killer a second motive, one that was weaker than the one that prompted her to kill the victim, but not so weak that it would scream “This one!” Yeah, it’s all too common to give the killer either no motive known to the sleuth or something so weak that you can just tell the author is trying to point you away from them. I think I figured something out that will work.

I also took out my hand-drawn map of the village of Rainbow Ranch (okay, I went through three different versions I had stuck in a looseleaf) to refresh my memory and to see if I’d indicated where the setting for this new series was. I hadn’t, but I knew I had a description of Lilliana driving to it in one of the African Violet Club mysteries. Of course, it was in the last book I wrote, but I went through two before that looking for that description.

So I’ll have to put on my to-do list: Draw new map.

The other thing I’ve got my subconscious worrying on is the subplot. I think I have a great idea for one that will carry through several books, but I’m not too sure how to work it into the current book, much less the next few books in the series.

I’ll worry about that tomorrow.


October 12, 2021 - What's the Plot?

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Before the move, I was working on the first book in my new series. I remember working out all the details of the victim, killer, and suspects and feeling really good about what I was going to write. Now that I’m mostly settled in and going to write the book for NaNo, I thought it was time to refresh my memory about the story and flesh out the details.

There’s only one problem. All the “feel” for the story that I had before the moving break is gone. I recognize what I wrote in my one line per scene outline, but not the richness that should happen in addition to that one line. And the ending is very sketchy, which was what I was hoping to flesh out.

So to feel like I’m making progress on this story, I started thinking about some other things.

For one thing, Lilliana, my senior sleuth had completed her character arc in the first series, and I thought she should have a new arc for the new series. I even got an idea as to what that should be. That required a new character, and I came up with a really exciting concept. The more I worked on that character, the more I thought this was going to be an excellent story.

There’s only one problem. It can’t be the main story of a murder mystery. So I have to figure out a way to stretch it over multiple books, not use a lot of what I’m coming up with right away, which is kind of deflating.

And I still have the problem of working out the ending of the murder mystery satisfactorily.

I know I’ll figure it out eventually. I always do. But at the moment, I’m in the stage where my brain is jumping around to all kinds of ideas and things I should do and not solving the central problem.


October 9, 2021 - A Day with Photoshop Elements

Saturday, October 09, 2021

I’ve been watching a lot of NaNo prep YouTube videos lately. NaNo is short for NaNoWriMo, which is short for National Novel Writing Month, which happens in November. Since I’m about ready to start a new book, it’s good timing for me. I’ve also been beta reading a book on Writing and Marketing a Bestseller by Elana Johnson. I love her writing books. She’s a high-energy person (usually), writes a ton of novels every year, and makes really good money.

NaNoWriMo recommends having a cover for your NaNo novel to make it more real, and Elana is a big fan of pre-orders, for which you also really need a cover. And a blurb, but that’s a different problem. Since I’d started designing a cover for the new series I’m about to start a few months ago, I thought I’d pull it up and make the modifications I’d intended several months ago, like replacing the watermarked “try” images with purchased artwork. I started to do that late yesterday, only to discover I’d totally forgotten the techniques I’d mastered in creating the mockup.

Can you say “frustration”? I seriously wanted to cry. Photoshop skills don’t come naturally to me, and I’d spent so much time figuring some stuff out when I designed the original cover, none of which stuck with me. On top of that, I couldn’t find the pink index card where I noted how to do some of these things. (It’s probably still packed in a box somewhere.) I told myself to calm down, that being hangry was amplifying my frustration, and that I should think about it another day.

Of course, I woke up a 6:00 AM and, after feeding the cats and making coffee, the first thing I did was turn on my computer and open up Photoshop Elements. But, knowing I needed a refresher, I first spent a couple of hours watching videos from two different classes I bought earlier this year. This was followed by long sessions of relearning how to do a few things and learning different ways of doing others, until I finally had an acceptable cover for book one.

Since I was in the groove now, I copied that and made modifications to suit book two. (I’m not crazy. When I do my own covers, I stick with a single design that I can make minor changes to for each book. I’m not a professional cover designer who can make each cover unique. I’m not even sure that’s a great idea.)

You know, people think about a writer as someone like Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone, sitting and typing madly all day long. Or Richard Castle, who lives in a penthouse and effortlessly turns out books with hardly any work at all. But there’s lots of other tasks now, especially if you’re an indie. Yesterday’s lengthy project was trying to come up with titles for these new mysteries.

I thought I had come up with a clever idea of adapting song titles for the books, but after the first clever idea, nothing came to mind. So first I spent several hours making a list of song titles related to what I’m writing. Then I spent another span of time looking through word lists that would go with them. In the end, I only came up with a title for the second book, and I’m not sure whether I’ll keep it or not. If you have a publisher, they come up with the title. Even if you think you’ve got the perfect one, they’ll most likely change it.

Anyway, I’m glad tomorrow is Sunday, which is my day off. Then Monday I’m going to have to really dig in and start plotting the book so I can write it.


October 7, 2021

Thursday, October 07, 2021

Hmmm… “tomorrow” turned out to be almost a week later.

My Halloween short story is ready to go. If you’re on my mailing list, you’ll get a link where you can download it for free. If you’re not on my mailing list, it will be available on Amazon in the middle of October.

Sign up for my newsletter here.

After doing a beta read for an author friend of mine, I spent today redoing my writing schedule because I changed my mind (again) about which book I want to write next. I wish I could write two books at a time, but I can’t. So it will be (as promised in last month’s newsletter) the first book in the Rainbow Ranch Mystery Series. I’m definitely looking forward to writing this one. I just wish I could rearrange the calendar to put an event that won’t happen until the first week in February to next week.

I’ll tell you about that when it happens.

Hopefully, it won’t be too long before I’ll be able to start teasing the new book with a cover and a blurb. All I have to do is come up with them.

Anyway, I wanted to write and post this before the Red Sox game. The AL Wild Card game on Tuesday night was perfect, and I’m hoping the ALDS series also goes their way. After being forecast to not even wind up in the hunt this year, the Red Sox have surprised everyone. I love this team!


October 1, 2021 - Trying to find my routine

Friday, October 01, 2021

With cartons still left to unpack, organize, or find a place for, I haven’t quite established a new routine (although my old one is struggling to reassert itself). But I’m trying to do some writing task before tackling the next batch of boxes each day.

Today, I did the last bit of revision on my Halloween story, “Murder at a Masked Ball” and then put it through ProWritingAid. That’s my least favorite part of the writing process. PWA doesn’t understand the subtleties of language, especially when I’m trying to write in a more old-fashioned style on purpose. I’m surprised that it picks on what it considers excess verbiage even in dialogue. For instance, I have one of my characters say they were “a bit” something, like a bit tired or a bit confused. PWA, in its no-nonsense way, thinks the sentences would be a lot clearer if I eliminated “a bit” and just said they were tired or confused. It has no understanding of the subtle difference between the two.

On the other hand, it’s gratifying to discover I had zero usage of passive voice, one of the things that I had to change a lot in past years. It seems natural to tell a story in passive voice, but the words aren’t as strong that way.

Anyway, I sent the story off to my chief beta reader and requested some others from among mystery writer friends in a group I belong to, so hopefully I’ll be getting feedback in the next few days. I’ve already started looking for artwork for the cover, which is another difficult part of the process. I always think it will be easy to find a picture that reflects my story or novel, but the stock photo sites never seem to have what I think would be the most obvious kind of picture.

Until tomorrow.


September 29, 2021 - I'm Back

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

What a month this has been. I just hope I don’t have to move again for a very long time. I have too much stuff. I got used to that not mattering so much since I had a large closet in my office and a larger one in the hall that I called the pantry, but it also stored Christmas decorations, cat stuff, and pots, soil, and other supplies for my African violets and houseplants. I have closets here, but they’re smaller, and the one in my office is also the laundry room and the cat room, so no storage for boxes.

But I’m not complaining. I love the layout of this apartment, and it’s in much better shape than my old one. I had an adventure with the stove this morning (I’ve been using my crock pot and the microwave so far), which has a glass top (which I had in my house) and fancy digital controls (which I didn’t). All I wanted to do was scramble eggs, but figuring out the buttons was a challenge, particularly in turning the burner off. I was proud of myself for making the eggs, but pushing the digital button again, which was supposed to turn it off, kept showing H5, which I thought was an indication of the temperature and meant High 5, and that the stove was still on.

After poking at the buttons again, I brought my breakfast into my office and searched the internet for the instruction manual so I could turn the stove off. After reading through the appropriate page a couple of times, I figured out I had turned it off, and what the indicator was saying was HS, for Hot Surface, and that it would go off when the stove cooled. Duh.

But at last I have, finally, gotten back to writing. Or planning for writing. I spent over an hour figuring out my tasks for the rest of this year and the first quarter of next year. I’m going to try to work in some craft study as well as planning and writing two novels in that time. I have several books that I’ve bought this past year that I haven’t read yet. Or only skimmed. I’m looking forward to getting back into a routine, but it won’t be as intensive as I’d like it to be.

I still have a lot of boxes to unpack and organize.


September 7, 2021 - Time Flies!

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

No, I haven’t forgotten about my intention to post my writing progress. I just haven’t made much since I wrote last. But today I knew it was time to finish up that short story, and so I made that my priority. And finish it, I did, writing 2021 words for a total of just over 17,000 words.

The ending was easy, since I’ve known what would happen since I started thinking about this story. In fact, the ending was the whole reason to write the story to begin with. I could have just put a short narrative prologue at the beginning of the first book in the new series, but I think in stories. I also felt that since I’ve made my readers wait so long to find out what happens next to Lilliana and Christopher, they deserved more than a few sentences.

This is the first draft, and so I need to revise it to make sure it reads smoothly and includes all the information I intended, but not so much people who read it will get bored. And check commas and such so that the writing doesn’t annoy people.

But the hard part is done, and my plan is to release it in November or December, with the first book in the new series (did I mention that’s the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries?) coming in late January or early February of next year.

There will be something else in October of this year, but you’ll just have to wait to find out what that is.


August 31, 2021 - This Week's Progress So Far

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

I’m continuing with my plan for working on the short story. Yesterday I wrote 555 words and today I wrote 964 words. If I didn’t have so much other stuff to do, I probably could have written twice as much. This is one story where I’ve actually got everything I wanted to say in it in my outline. As I write, I’m discovering some additional information, but nothing that affects the basic structure of the tale. I can only hope that the outline for the novel will be as complete when I start writing that.

I also watched one of the Amazon KDP videos this morning, one with Dakota Krout. I knew his name because he’s one of the perennial bestsellers on Amazon, but not too much more than that. It was a very interesting interview about how he started as an author, mistakes he made and things he did right, and how he learned so much and now is not only successful himself, but how he’s published several other indie authors who have also become bestsellers.

He writes litrpg, which stands for role playing game literature. Think Ready Player One, which kind of started the genre, but from what I hear isn’t actually typical of how it developed. Litrpg isn’t my cup of tea, but I did read Ready Player One and liked it. Just not enough to read more in the genre.

One of the things he does both with his own books and with those of the authors he publishes is use the rapid release strategy. In his case, that doesn’t mean writing a book a month. It means waiting until you have three books in a series written, no matter how long that takes you, then releasing them a month apart, complete with pre-orders on each so you build momentum. Libby Hawker does this as well. He thinks you need to do this to build confidence in readers that you will not write just one book that they love and then never write anything continuing the story. If I understood Dakota correctly, once you’ve built this trust, it doesn’t matter much how long it takes for you to publish book four or five or seventeen in the series. I think Libby Hawker only wrote three-book series when she was touting this strategy, and since mystery series are usually just getting going at the three-book mark, it didn’t seem to apply to me.

I’m particularly interested in this since I am working on a new series now. I had intended to write one book, maybe two in this series, publish them as they were done, then write another book in the Shipwreck Point series. The idea would be to alternate between the series. But after listening to Dakota Krout, I’m thinking I’ll write, but not publish, the first two books, then a Shipwreck Point book which I will publish, then start work on the third in the new series. When I’m a month out from finishing it, I’ll publish the first book in the series, and then the next two to get that rapid release boost. Then I’ll start alternating books in each of the series.

He also had some interesting ideas on Amazon ads, but if you want to know what that was, you’ll have to watch the video yourself. 😉


August 28, 2021 - Where I'm At

Saturday, August 28, 2021

That curve ball has been preoccupying me this week, and so I’ve made little writing progress. I get out of sorts when I don’t write, so today I determined to write something to keep my hand in. That something was the short story that transitions between the African Violet Club Mysteries and the new Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. Since it occurs before the first novel in the next series, it makes sense to complete it first. Besides, I stand a chance of finishing that story in a week, maybe a little more, maybe a little less, which will mean I can check something off my list. I thoroughly enjoy marking tasks complete.

And then, if life doesn’t get too crazy, I’ll go back to the novel and try to make progress with that, along with dealing with the changes that are coming.

I just hope we don’t get too many more storms. Another violent thunderstorm moved through Tucson late this afternoon, bringing strong winds, sheets of rain, and thunder and lightning. My office window leaked again, of course, which meant stuffing towels along the sill and on the floor for a while. I will be so glad to not have to do that any more, but there’s a chance of more severe storms toward the end of next week, so we’re not out of the woods yet.

I can’t promise daily writing for the next month, but I will try to post brief updates whenever I do manage to get some words written.


August 24, 2021 - The Start

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

As usually happens, life has thrown me a curve ball this month. To be truthful, I was complicit in the way the game has played out, but I hadn’t intended to make this move for another year. That’s where life came in.

Yes, I’m being vague, and yes, it’s on purpose.

Let’s just say I’m now juggling priorities and trying to figure out what to do next. Several times a day.

The good news is, I did start Homicide on the Range this morning. I didn’t get the 2,000 words I was aiming for, much less catch up on the 2,000 words I didn’t write yesterday. But I did write slightly over 1400 words, which isn’t bad for an hour’s worth of work. I didn’t like a lot of what I wrote. As always, I got off to a rough start, trying to figure out exactly how the story would open. In revisions, I’ll probably change the first few paragraphs a lot.

But I was encouraged by the fact that the scenes started playing themselves out in my mind. Once I made a decision about what to write next, the characters took over and led me through the next few hundred words. This is a good thing, because it means I’ve done enough planning for my unconscious, my muse, if you will, to work out the details on the fly.

I’m not sure how tomorrow will work out. I have to run more errands tomorrow (which is what I was doing a good part of yesterday), and that always throws me off as far as writing goes. I’ll be happy once my life is a bit more settled again. I’m going to try to focus on that rather than the disruptions I’ll need to deal with for the next month.


August 20, 2021 - Ready to Write!

Friday, August 20, 2021

As I predicted yesterday, today I was able to finish my basic outline for the first book in the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries series. I can’t tell you how good this makes me feel. Even thought I’m a week late on my deadline, in the grand scheme of things, I can still publish this book on time, meaning mid-November. I just have to practice BICHOK method (Butt In Chair Hands On Keyboard).

I was done with plotting by lunchtime, so in the afternoon I moved on to more administrative tasks. I published a box set for the first three Shipwreck Point mysteries. Apparently, readers who read box sets are different than readers who read individual books. A lot of them subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, and the idea of only using up one borrow and getting to read three books in appealing. They also are attractive sale items. Not that I have any intention of putting this book on sale in the near future. That will probably happen next year. (Am I really planning for 2022 already? Yes. Yes, I am.)

Speaking of sales, I’m going to be running one in mid-September, so today I set up the discounted prices for those books (Yes, I said prices and books, not price and book.) on Amazon. No hints yet on that either. If you subscribe to my newsletter, they’ll be announced first there.

All in all, this was a good writing day.


August 19, 2021 - Back to Plotting

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Although I didn’t post to my blog yesterday, I did get quite a lot done. This was thanks, in large part, to an Idea to Plot video with Chuck Manley on Keystroke Medium. He, Kalene Williams, and Lauren Moore showed how to brainstorm a plot in about an hour.

The secret to doing this is to stick to basic plot points. Don’t try to go too deep. The women kept doing this, or as they said, they kept getting lost in the weeds. When coming up with the main character, they started with a basic idea: a female senior in high school who discovers she’s got magical powers. Right from the get-go, the women started going off the track by discussing things like what color her eyes are and whether she’s on the cheerleading team. (No, I don’t think these were the exact things they drifted off into, but the premise they started with was an awful lot like Buffy, the Vampire Slayer. More on that in a bit.) Chuck would have to reign them in and said that at this point, whether she’s a cheerleader or not isn’t important.

What Chuck was looking for were the broad strokes of the plot until they got to the end. He said you filled in the details on the next pass.

Now, this reminded me an awful lot of my own spending hours searching for pictures of the desert the other day. Or coming up with the fact that one suspect in my murder mystery has six children, two boys and four girls, even though they never make an appearance. Focusing on those little bits was keeping me from deciding what big thing happens next. It would take me weeks to get to the last plot beat.

So, back to Buffy. Right from the start, my initial reaction was that this plot they were coming up with wasn’t very original. I mean, the idea of a chosen one who has powers they’re unaware of, is mentored by the wise man, and trains to defeat the Big Bad Guy has been used thousands of times. It’s not only Buffy, it’s Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I was tempted to stop watching the video, but desperate to develop my own plot, I stuck with it.

And what happened was that as they got further into the plot, the more they brainstormed, the more it developed into something, if not totally unique, was different enough to make an intriguing story.

For the past two days, I’ve been trying to focus on the bare bones plot points of my mystery rather than the picky details of whether the ranch house faces east or north. It’s enabled me to make more progress in two days than I have in the last month. I’m almost done with that first plot pass now, and if I keep forging ahead, I just might be able to start writing this novel next Monday.


August 17, 2021 - Writing

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Since I didn’t feel like I got much done yesterday even though I know it’s all part of the process, I decided that I needed to write new words today. And so I opened up the short story that I’m writing as a transition between the African Violet Club Mysteries and the new Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. I left that off in the middle to try to plan the new series, which meant I had to go back and reread what I’d written so far.

It wasn’t bad, although I did find a few typos and missing words that I had to fix. I managed 1626 words today, even though I wasn’t a hundred percent clear as to where some of the scenes were going. For some reason, I’m a lot more confident writing in this world than I am in Shipwreck Point. I suppose it’s because I’ve known Lilliana so long, writing in her voice comes naturally to me. I know her well enough that I can have her do things and be sure of how she would approach a situation or react to something that happens.

I definitely felt more productive writing than searching for photographs on the internet.


August 16, 2021 - Steady Progress

Monday, August 16, 2021

It’s amazing how much stuff it takes to write a novel that isn’t exactly writing. I’m trying to do a chapter-by-chapter outline of this one right now while champing at the bit to actually write new words. I know who is killed, who killed her, and why. I also know why the other suspects might have done it. But I wasn’t sure how the victim was killed.

That led me to search for pictures. You see, how she was killed depends on where she was killed. I had to get her away from the rest of the group so she’d be vulnerable. I also had to have her die in a way that wouldn’t scream who killed her. And I wanted the setting to be realistic.

The best way to do that is to make a field trip to either the exact location or, if there isn’t a real one because the place in the book is totally fictional, a place somewhat like it. This has been difficult to do over the past few months due to COVID. Two years ago, I did drive out to Empire Ranch for the Day of the Cowboy, so I had that as a reference. But this story takes place on a slightly different kind of ranch. This story takes place on a dude ranch.

Now, a decade or more ago, the company I worked for held a dinner at Tanque Verde Ranch, which is actually in Tucson, which is part of the problem with using that one. It’s too citified for the location I’m imagining.

I do know an actual dude ranch that I’m using as the basis for my fictional one, but I’ve never been there. I hope to rectify that over the winter (like most things in this climate, you have to wait until winter to enjoy it), but I want to finish writing at least the draft of this book before then.

So I Googled all three places, generally winding up on TripAdvisor for an assortment of photos that I saved to a new Pinterest board. (No, you can’t see that right now. I make my book research boards private. Later on, if I take the time to do it, I might do a public version of it.)

That makes it easier to envision this make-believe place, put my characters in it, and see how they behave. So now I know exactly where and how she’s killed. I’ll probably have to draw a map of the ranch and its surroundings while writing the scene. While I have an actual map of my source dude ranch, it’s too complex for a cozy mystery setting. It’s like setting a story in Boston as opposed to Cabot Cove. I have to lay out Cabot Cove.

I didn’t get a whole lot done on the outline itself. But my castle in the air is closer to being done, which means I’ll be able to move into it (mentally) in a few days.


August 13, 2021 - Focus

Friday, August 13, 2021

A good day today. I was able to focus on planning the first book in my new Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. I now have at least a minimal character profile for my killer, my victim, and the four additional suspects. I’ve also got the “master plot” or theme for both my sleuth and the killer. I’ve figured out that for mysteries, you can’t just focus on the protagonist, because the antagonist, aka killer, is just as much of a driving force for the story as the protagonist is. Maybe more.

Tomorrow, I’m hoping to start filling in the details of the plot points for this novel. That will probably mean exploring secondary characters and figuring out what complications will get in the way of my sleuth solving the mystery.

I’m not sure I’ll make my goal of starting the first draft on Monday, but I’m hoping for the end of next week. Then I go into all-out NaNoWriMo mode.


August 12, 2021 - A Brief Update

Thursday, August 12, 2021

 Just a short note tonight to keep from skipping too many days.

My focus today was working on character sheets for the killer, victim, and suspects in the first novel. It’s days like today when I wish I had chosen to write romance where you only have to be very detailed about two people. As I think about motives for the various suspects, things always get complicated. There has to be a whole history between each of them and the victim for it to make sense that they’d want to kill him or her.

I also keep thinking about the cast of continuing characters who are, after all, the reason readers keep coming back to a series. It’s not usually because the mystery is so clever. No, in the African Violet Club mysteries, I’m sure everyone—including me—kept reading because they wanted to know if Lilliana would find her Prince Charming and her purpose in life. And what sweater Nancy would knit next. And how all the other characters were doing with their health issues and families and social activities. I developed those over a period of years. Now I’m faced with pretty much a blank slate, and all of those side characters are merely the deputy sheriff, the ranch foreman, the old timer, and things like that.

Eventually I’ll figure it all out, but not today.


August 11, 2021 - Rain

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

No, the title doesn’t have much to do with writing, although it is the excuse I have for not being more productive today than I was. Our very rainy monsoon continues. Last night, a thunderstorm parked itself over Tucson and deluged us with an incredible amount of water. Now, the window in my office has been known to leak during a heavy rain, but last night water was pouring in. I used up five bath towels over time, trying to keep the water from soaking everything.

I then had to bring those towels to the laundry room this morning and wash, and more importantly, dry them so I’ll be prepared for the next storm, which may come as soon as tomorrow night. I spoke with the office today, and I was the second, although not the last, I’m sure to complain about a leaking window. She had more calls from residents on the first floor, who must have had water flowing under their doors.

Not only are washes, our usually dry stream beds, filled to overflowing, the fire department was doing swift water rescues on Broadway last night. There was just that much water.

Anyway, I continue to make slow but steady progress on my writing. I did a lot more work on fleshing out my characters for the first novel in the new series yesterday, and wrote almost 800 words on the short story today.

I also spent a lot more time on coming up with a concept and a design for the covers for this series. After much frustration yesterday, today I made great progress on a different idea. I hope to have something worth showing in another week, at least to the writers in my mystery sprint group, to see if they think I’m on the right track.

I’m hoping for a lot more writing progress tomorrow. If it doesn’t rain too hard.


August 9, 2021 - Plotting the Novel

Monday, August 09, 2021

The title is kind of misleading. That’s what I was trying to do, but I made very little progress.

I know the setup of this book—a group of old college roommates gets together for a reunion—and there’s a murder, which my senior sleuth solves. Sounds great, right? As far as it goes, that is. But there are lots of details missing, and today was the day to start working on those.

It took me a while to settle on whether to start with the characters or the plot. I thought it should be the plot, so I opened up my notebook to the page where I’d started making notes. I only had two plot variations, and I decided I didn’t like one of them, which left me with one. I needed more ideas than that.

So I began to look through some of my references on plotting a mystery to see if that would help. I almost bought another book on Amazon, but fortunately was able to convince myself to try with one more reference I already have before doing that. (Yes, buying more craft or marketing books is always a great way to procrastinate on actually doing anything.)

Well, that worked only briefly, because many of the situations required specific occupations or relationships between the characters. So I was back to character to see what I could come up with. There are six women in this group, which is larger than I usually begin with, but I want to make sure I have enough suspects without going outside the group and be forced to use some of the continuing characters in the series.

I find it awkward to refer to characters as Suspect 1 or Suspect A, so I needed names. This led me to the Social Security website to look up names that were popular in 1960. Since I want them to be close to retirement, I had to start with subtracting 60 from 2021 to come up with a birth year. Then, in Googling some other information, I happened upon a wonderful site which has a summary of news events, movies released, etc., and pictures of fashions for each year from the 1800s to the current day (https://www.thepeoplehistory.com/). Yes, I did get lost there for a while.

I decided on six names, then thought I needed to know what their occupations were going to be at the time of the story. Yes, more searching the Internet for likely occupations for a woman with a college degree today. I particularly wanted two that were somewhat related to use as a point of contact that might be a reason two of them had kept in touch over the years more than the others. Finding those suggested a scenario that could lead to a problem. Good stuff!

So back to plotting. That put me back to where I started. I was either going to have to dig deeper into one of the plotting references or do more internet searches for stuff. That was not going to be a short task. :::sigh:::

Fortunately, I checked my email, which reminded me of something I needed to do by tomorrow for Sisters in Crime. Which I did. And now it’s just about time for the Red Sox game (why am I still watching them?), so I thought I’d better write this up and post it.


August 7, 2021 - I Just Keep On Truckin'

Saturday, August 07, 2021

 I spent lots more time on searching for covers images today. I had given up on that and told myself I’d think about it after I plan the novel this coming week. But while I was in the shower (Don’t everyone’s best ideas come to them in the shower?), I suddenly came up with a concept that would simplify making covers for this new series. I’d already downloaded some graphics that I could use for the background. It was “just” a matter of finding the objects to put on top of that.

Yeah, I always think that.

Anyway, I’m close to having images I can work with, and if not, I remembered that I actually know a graphic artist. He does the artwork for a friend of mine’s picture books, and I used to be in a critique group with them. So, if I really need something different than what I can find on stock photo sites, I’ll speak with Elaine and ask her if I should approach him.

Fortunately, there were several natural breaks in my day, and I was able to tear myself away from looking at pictures long enough to write 1,000 more words on the short story. This one is flowing pretty well. It’s amazing what an outline will do. I should be able to finish it up in two or three more days.

And then there was the “emergency” for the Tucson chapter of Sisters in Crime. I’m the newsletter editor, so whenever the board realizes they need something from the members right away or there’s an announcement that needs to go out, I get a flurry of emails in my inbox as they debate exactly what it is they want me to do with that. I have to sort through them and make an engaging email to the members out of all that. As you can guess, one of those things happened between yesterday and today.

So I’ve just finished sending out a newsletter and thought I’d better write and post this blog before turning off my computer for the night. Remember, I don’t work on Sundays, so you’ll next see something from me on Monday evening.


August 6, 2021 - New Words!

Friday, August 06, 2021

I spent a good part of yesterday setting up the scenes to “Return to Rainbow Ranch” in Scrivener. I wrote a brief synopsis, with the hope I was addressing all the plot points in advance.

It must have worked, because today was a good writing day! I wrote almost 1500 new words on the short story, and as I’d hoped, the words flowed easily because I didn’t have to keep stopping to figure out what happens next.

This is the method I’m really hoping to use with the novels in this series. It was how I wrote the first three books in the African Violet Club Mysteries and was able to “rapid release” them.

I also set up the schedule for writing the first book in the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. As part of the 3-Day Planning a Series Challenge that just finished, the instructor asked us for the date we would start writing the first draft of the first novel, the date we would finish the first draft, and the date we would publish that book. That leaves a whole bunch of missing steps between finishing the first draft and publication. Rather than get to the end of the writing and needing to figure it out, I did the math today. It’s somehow calming to know what I’ll be doing for the next three months. Having a plan makes it all seem doable.

Now all I have to do is not add a whole bunch of other things in between the book steps. Too often, I do that. My life seems so organized, I think I’ve got plenty of time to join a class or a group read or something, forgetting how much time that takes away from the primary task at hand.

I have one other problem I need to sort out rather quickly: how am I going to name these books?

The African Violet Club books were named after colors out of necessity. I wanted to do the covers myself (at least at first), and the only way I saw that as possible was to create a template cover and change one thing about it for each book. The easiest thing to change was the color. I also searched for what words were used most often in the titles of successful mysteries. Murder seemed to be the top choice. So I had a color and the word Murder. Once that was decided, I just needed an appropriate adjective to describe the color, and hopefully the plot, for each book.

The Shipwreck Point Mysteries were even easier. As they are partly an homage to Perry Mason, it made sense to title them in the same way Erle Stanley Gardner did. Which was always “The Case of” followed by (usually) an adjective and a noun beginning with the same letter. This isn’t hard at all. There are even lists online for nouns beginning with… and adjectives beginning with… . If you’re really stuck, you can go through those and pick two that go together.

But nothing like either of those methods presents itself to my brain regarding the Rainbow Ranch books. I’m just hoping lightning will strike before I finish the first draft of the first book,


August 4, 2021 - This is going to be a Great Series!

Wednesday, August 04, 2021

Sorry that I’ve been absent for a few days. Sunday is always a scheduled day off. Then, starting Monday, I was taking part in a 3-Day Plan Your Series Challenge. I’ve been wanting to start planning my new Rainbow Ranch Mysteries series for a few weeks now, but I felt obligated to finish the outline for The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle first. Only that wasn’t going as smoothly as I’d hoped.

The series challenge came along just at the right time for me. It allowed me to stop fighting with Pirate’s Puzzle and start thinking about the books in the new series. Well, the challenge didn’t exactly do it. But having it available meant I was able to give myself permission to back away from the Shipwreck Point world and explore the new one.

Through a series of exercises, the three days got me to the point where I not only have a good concept of how the series will develop, but am excited about writing it. To show you how excited, while the challenge aimed to have concepts for four books in the series, I came up with ten! Okay, I don’t have a lot of details on most of the books. In fact, the only books that have more than one line attached to them are the first and second. But that’s a great start!

I’ve also got a better idea of how to flesh out these stories than I did before the challenge. It’s a method I’ve been working toward, with figuring out how Plotto and Plottr work, reading another book on how to write a mystery, and thinking about the suggestions in book called Write Frame of Mind. That last has suggestions on how to deal with the blocks you as a writer face based on your personality type. That’s a little like the enneagram book I’ve also been reading. Mindset is a big part of being successful, and I’m trying to work on mine.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow when I plan on finalizing an outline for the short story and beginning to list out plot details for the first book in the new series. With any luck, I’ll make good progress. Tune in tomorrow to find out how I did.


July 31, 2021 - A Plan

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Yesterday I got lost in Design-A-Cover Land. Well, not exactly designing one, but getting ready to design one. That meant a lot of time scrolling through images in Deposit Photos, looking for appropriate backgrounds and pictures that could be my main characters. It’s very easy to spend hours doing that, which I did. But having a cover as a reference is inspiring, which is how I justified not spending any time at all on planning the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries.

Today was the opposite. Or maybe I just got far enough in my imaging to continue working on the stories.

Number one was creating a list of motives for my murders. This was inspired by a list in Mastering Your Mystery by Cheryl Bradshaw. It didn’t seem like a great list, but it was a start. I fleshed it out by Googling “motives” and reading several other lists. I put all this into yet-another-spreadsheet, and put it in my Book of Lists.

Similarly to what happened with listing tropes on Thursday, this inspired a number of ideas for other stories. Or hooking up the existing scenarios to a motive, which sometimes led to a villain. Kind of. At this stage, everything is very fluid.

I also started thinking about the short story that will act as a bridge between the African Violet Club Mysteries and the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. I’d written four scenes in that a few months ago, but there’s a lot more that has to happen before I can finish it. But while I was watching the Red Sox game (ugh!), I kept picking up my iPad and Googling more things as I thought of them. When the Rays scored a bunch of runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, I turned off the game and went back to my office.

I have just spent another half hour putting the short story and its scenes into Plottr so I wouldn’t forget the ideas I came up with. I’m hoping to find the notes I was writing the story from originally (I hope I had a clear idea of the murder, because there’s not a whole lot about that in Scrivener from when I left off!) tomorrow, so in between the Plan Your Series Challenge activities, I can add some words toward getting the story done.


July 29, 2021 - Tropes

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Today was fun. One of the prep exercises for the Plan a Series Challenge is listed as “Brain Dump/Mind Map of Ideas.” This has three items:

  • Story ideas
  • Character types
  • Tropes

The first is the most difficult for me, since I think of a “story” as the entire novel, with all the twists and turns a reader expects in a mystery. So I didn’t quite feel up to doing that assignment.

But character types? That’s a whole other ball of wax, especially because in going through my various resources on plotting a mystery, I ran across a list of stereotypical villains. The ones that most appealed to me were the prodigal son/black sheep, the fake friend, red is for revenge (I’m not sure why red.), the femme fatale, the equal, and the bully. 

Most of all, I liked the fake friend, probably because I’ve been watching Scott & Bailey on BritBox, which is about two female investigators on the Major Incident Team. Because the focus is on the women, this police procedural has a lot more emotional content than is usual, and a recent situation proves that one character is a fake friend. So I’d seen this trope in action very recently, and liked the ramifications of it.

The villain often defines a mystery story, and reading about these types started my brain percolating situations that could use them. But I wasn’t quite ready to deal with story ideas yet.

So I moved on to tropes. If you ever want to waste—errrr—spend a few hours browsing online, go to tvtropes.org and start reading. I’ve done this before for mystery tropes, but I wanted to take a look at western tropes and discovered there’s also a crime category separate from mystery. I copied two and a half pages of different tropes into my notebook.

I also came up with scenarios for five books. Five? I thought this challenge was to plan four books in your series? Well, yeah, but I couldn’t help myself. While doing all this immersion in characters and tropes, I was also thinking about situations that would lead to a group of suspects to be in one location for a period of time with few or no outside characters and possibilities that could lead to one character killing another. I initially stopped at the required four, but had one more idea that I didn’t want to forget. So I added another book to this new series in Plottr.

I can’t wait to find out what I dream up tomorrow!


July 28, 2021 - Switching Series

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

I listen to and watch a lot of podcasts, because I’m always trying to learn something about being a better author. One I subscribed to on YouTube is Author Revolution with Carissa Andrews. But I hadn’t watched many (any?) of them until a few days ago. Serendipitously, the second or third one I watched mentioned she was starting a three-day Plan Your Series Challenge. Hmmm…

I have to interject that I’d also attended a couple of webinars this week, one with David Farland, the author of Million Dollar Outlines, which I’ve been trying to get through while planning The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle. Everyone has great things to say about him as a teacher, and of course, the webinar was to pitch one of his classes. But it is really expensive and he’s a science fiction and fantasy author. The other webinar was with Jerry Jenkins pitching his class on how to write a bestselling novel. I think that was more expensive than David Farland’s course. And he’s most famous for the Left Behind series, a combination of Christian Fiction and apocalyptic fiction.

I keep thinking that I’ve got more to learn about writing a novel. But I’m no longer a beginner, which is where most of the courses are targeted, and I’ve never run into one of these big courses given by a mystery writer. I’ve been trying to hold off on taking another course, promising myself I’ll pay for a developmental editor for the first book in the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries who will at least be a specialist in plotting a mystery and, hopefully, can give me personalized advice about how to write better fiction.

So my ears perked up when I heard Carissa Andrews mention this Plan Your Series Challenge and—gasp!—I found out she writes a mystery series. Supposedly, in three days, she’ll show you how to plan a series, including outlines for four books in it that you should then be able to write quickly and rapid release. And it’s free! Okay, it’s probably a teaser for her paid course, but the timing seemed opportune, since it starts on Monday, which was when I was supposed to start outlining the first book in the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. I signed up for the challenge, which means a newsletter and a FB group.

I didn’t expect to have the first newsletter arrive yesterday with a pre-planning assignment. Guess what I worked on today?

It was actually fun, answering some of the questions about this new series, going over what ideas and brainstorming I’ve gathered over time, and thinking about what this series should look like.

But it leaves me in a dilemma about what to do with The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle. My best guess—as of today—is that I’m going to focus on the new series for the next couple of days, and then spend the weekend putting all my notebook scribbles about Pirate’s Puzzle into Plottr and Scrivener, and pick that up after I’ve got the first book in the new series drafted.

But that may change.


July 27, 2021 - Slow Progress

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

 I started today by opening Plottr to continue planning the scenes in The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle, but quickly found that in order to do this correctly, I had to create more characters, locations, and now attributes to have it make sense. Attributes are pretty much anything you want to define them as. At the moment, I have one for the day of the week, date, and time for each scene. I haven’t decided whether to make point of view an attribute, a category, or a tag. These functions are more limited in Plottr than in Scrivener, where I’ve got most of this information—except for characters first introduced in this novel. So I had to set those up.

Then I decided I needed more suspects than I have, which at this point are Titus Strong’s client and one of Ranson Payne’s henchmen along with the actual killer. This requires backtracking to the victim and reasons someone would want to kill him.

That’s when I discovered I didn’t know a whole lot about him yet. I was going to sit at the dining room table and try to flesh him out, but I never did get to that.

I had watched a video while eating breakfast this morning about being a healthy writer. (There was more than that, but the healthy part was what I focused on.) One of the things that Roland Denzel said was it’s very unhealthy to sit for hours on end. (I think I knew that.) He elaborated that even getting up and walking around for five minutes every half hour would do such magical things as lower cholesterol. Now, I already use the Pomodoro method, or what are sometimes called writing sprints, which consists of setting a timer for (in my case) 30 minutes with a 10 minute break. But I usually don’t get up during those 10 minutes. Instead I check my sales, my email, and what’s happening on Facebook.

So today before I started writing, I made a checklist of tasks that I could do on my 10 minute break. I thought I’d broken it down into small enough bites to accomplish in that time, but the first two took significantly longer than 10 minutes. So, by the time I had those character sheets printed out, it was nearly time for lunch, as my cats so conveniently reminded me.

Later, I went back to reading Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland. The part I read today suggested that the best way to learn how to write well was to read the successful books in your genre. The way he said it was the bestselling books of all time in your genre, which is usually very different from what’s on the bestseller list today. So I went down the rabbit hole of finding a couple of those lists, copying them, and checking availability at the library and on Amazon.

I’m supposed to have this outline done by the end of the week, so I’d better be inspired tomorrow with new characters, scenes, and plot twists. Otherwise :::sigh:::, I’ll be behind again.


July 26, 2021 - Assorted Tasks

Monday, July 26, 2021

After taking the weekend off, I took a closer look at my To-Do List. I have a program called Things for Mac where I keep it, because that program allows me to set start dates and deadlines on each task. It also allows you to organized tasks by project and assign a deadline to the entire project.

So, one project I have is for things having to do with my mailing list and website. That was one where I’d let several items slide. One of the tasks I set up is backing up my subscriber list, my website theme, and my website content, e.g., blog posts monthly. Since that doesn’t take very long, I decided to do that first.

Then was another task I’ve been putting off: cleaning up my mailing list. Most newsletter services charge by the number of subscribers you have. The thing is, it’s too easy to accumulate subscribers who never actually read your emails, which means they’re unlikely to be buying any of your books. I’m also thinking about running another newsletter list building promotion, which will add subscribers. Now, the last one I ran bumped me up to a new pricing tier, but over time, enough subscribers have unsubscribed to put me down a level. But, if I ran a new list building promo, chances are I’d go right back into that higher price level. So it behooved me to purge people who never open my newsletter. To make a long story short, it took me longer to set that up than I thought it would.

I also went to yet another webinar on how to write a novel. Of course, it was really a pitch for a course, but I’m a course junkie. If I could afford it, I’d sign up for every writing related class that exists. Fortunately, this one costs almost $2,000, so it was relatively easy to not sign up for it. But I did spend ninety minutes listening to a little content and quite a lot of teasers and pitching.

Finally, yes, finally, I opened up Plottr and started plotting the next book in my Shipwreck Point Mysteries series. That’s PlottR, not PlottO. Plotto is the idea generator system I’ve been working on. Plottr is software to lay out your timelines, chapters, and scenes. It’s a visual, drag-and-drop system, so it’s a good way to plan a novel. It also exports an outline in Scrivener format, which could use improvement, but at least it’s a starting point. I didn’t work on it very long, but at least I did something toward making that novel a reality.


July 23, 2021 - More Plotto

Friday, July 23, 2021

 I don’t feel like today was very productive. I had an appointment at 10:30 this morning, which interrupted my concentration midway through my best writing time. It took a lot of willpower to continue where I left off when I got back home.

This turned out to be especially true because I’ve gotten to the fourth Plotto lesson, which is largely learning to understand the cryptic coding as well as the method of developing plots. The unique shorthand used to describe conflicts, characters, and their relationships makes sense as you’re reading the explanations, but working with it isn’t intuitive. At least not to me.

So I eventually abandoned the Plotto lessons for today and opened up Photoshop Elements to start designing a book cover for the first box set of the first three books in the Shipwreck Point series.

This box set has been on my todo list for a couple of months. When that happens, I tend to scan past that particular item and move on to something else. But a writer from one of my Facebook groups wrote a long post recently outlining his path to success. (That’s the simplified explanation. He’s actually written a series of posts over the past three years.) One of the things he talked about was how boxed sets of his series now make up the largest portion of his income. Readers tend to like to have the entire series, and Kindle Unlimited subscribers in particular like the idea of one borrow encompassing multiple books. And BookBub, the most profitable advertising platform for authors, tends to like discounted box sets.

I didn’t finish the book cover, but I’ve got the largest part of it done. I should be able to finish it over the weekend, compile the three books into one Kindle file, and publish it early next week.


July 22, 2021 - Serious Plotting

Thursday, July 22, 2021

Today I focused on various materials I have about plotting. As expected, this inspired more ideas and enhancements to existing ideas for The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle.

First, I read a chapter in Mastering Your Mystery: Write, Publish, and Profit with Your Mysteries & Thrillers by Cheryl Bradshaw. For some reason, I’d thought this book was oriented toward cozy mysteries such as I write, but then I ran into several pages on the different kinds of serial killers. So I went back earlier in the book and checked online and discovered, yes, she writes mostly thrillers about—you guessed it—serial killers. So, since I wasn’t interested in the gruesome details, I skipped that section. But the next section had to do with different kinds of killers, which did provide food for thought.

Except that she started with the premise that your killer should be a sympathetic character. So I scratched my head for a while, and then decided that idea went back to the difference between what she writes (Hannibal Lecter was one of her examples of sympathetic serial killers) and what I write. You see, in cozy mysteries, the victim is often “someone who needs killing.” In other words, not sympathetic at all. Everyone in town dislikes them, which means everyone in town could be a suspect.

I moved on to the next chapter in the Plotto Instruction Manual, which focused on illustrating that the master plots and complications in the Plotto system are not meant to be used literally, but as suggestions to inspire the writer’s imagination for their own stories. The exercises are meant to train you how to work with them.

For example, the first exercise was based on Conflict 705, which reads: A, unable to conquer his misfortunes, seeks to escape from them by committing suicide.

You were asked to come up with three different misfortunes that were so awful that they’d bring A to that desperate solution.

Then the second, used Conflict 588: B, dying, reveals to her husband, A, a closely guarded secret which he finds greatly perturbing.

The assignment was to come up with several ideas for what the secret is.

I found these exercises useful, and I finally understood what the instruction manual meant by “a trained imagination.” And, yes, thinking of alternatives, especially when I got to the exercise that asked you to elaborate on your chosen Master Plot and Complication, did give me some ideas for my own novel.

I’m going to have to step up my game as far as this plotting goes. According to my writing schedule, I’m supposed to have the outline for The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle done by the end of next week. While I’m making good progress, I’m not sure it’s good enough. So I’ll have to make it so.


July 21, 2021 - Ideas Become Clearer

Wednesday, July 21, 2021

I missed two days of blogging this week, which annoys me. The good news is that I continued to make progress even though I haven’t reported it.

Yesterday, I went through the book I borrowed from the library and made notes on characteristics of each enneagram type. That got me thinking about what type each of my core characters in this mystery would be. It also got me thinking about the background of my primary suspect. With a combination of Googling for research and free writing some ideas, I got to know quite a lot about Addison Slater.

Between yesterday and today, I came up with the last scene Slater plays in, which shows what he’s discovered about himself. You see, in a mystery, it’s not so much your protagonist’s character growth that matters. Sleuths like Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolf and Miss Marple don’t have much of a character arc. But you do need something of character change to make a story satisfying to the reader, so the one who changes is often the primary suspect.

In my not-working time, I also resolved the shape of the romantic subplot. As with the main plot, I had an idea concerning an issue that remains between Titus and Elisabeth. As I went about other tasks, bits and pieces of how that would develop floated through my brain. Mid-day, I decided to commit them to Plottr, a new piece of software I’m using to outline this mystery.

After this, I went back to studying Plotto (not to be confused with Plottr), which is a system for developing plots. Without going into too much detail, it has some predefined pieces: a list of characters who could be your protagonist, a list of situations, and a list of results. It then has a massive number of complications to suit the various combinations of the first part.

Along with this, I recently watched Shane, a classic old western. I’m not sure how I never watched this movie before, but one of the things that struck me was that things just got worse and worse for Shane and the family he stays with. As soon as one problem appears to be resolved, there’s another worse problem to face. It’s a classic homesteaders versus cattlemen situation, and Shane, a former gunfighter, is on the side of the homesteaders.

In doing the Plotto exercises, I thought about how difficult it is for me to make things hard on my characters. I’m too nice, at least in my writing, to easily come up with these kinds of complications. And, like Shane, Plotto is based on the old pulp fiction formula, making sure your characters have plenty of complications to deal with.

But complications or, as some authors call them, try-fail cycles, don’t come easily to me. And then, in a burst of genius, I thought of another way of putting this idea that immediately made it easier to generate ideas. So now I have a sticky note on my computer screen that says, “What could go wrong?”

And that’s it for today. Or today and yesterday. See you tomorrow.


July 19, 2021 - Squirrel!

Monday, July 19, 2021

Today was a good day, although it felt like I was hopping from one thing to the next. Which I suppose I was.

I was determined to get back to the Plotto instructions and start building the plot for The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle. And so I sat at my desk with the sheet of Lesson 2 Exercises and reread the question that I got stuck on last time. This was:

You were asked, in the First Lesson Work Sheet, to select from the Masterplots of the Masterplot Chart, a Masterplot that carried a particular appeal to you.

Well, I’d already searched through the various notebooks that I use for brainstorming a week ago and hadn’t found this, so I went to my hard drive to find the Lesson 1 Exercises. There was nothing about choosing a Masterplot in those. And then I noticed the mention of a “Work Sheet,” which isn’t quite the same as the Exercises.

The instruction manual was meant to be used with a class, since a lot of people had problems understanding how to use this method of plotting. Unfortunately, the remaining copy of the instruction manual doesn’t include the worksheets. So I hadn’t missed anything. The assignment had missed me.

I suppose I have to describe what a Masterplot is now. This is going to be a very brief explanation, so don’t feel bad if it doesn’t make a lot of sense to you. A Masterplot is made up of an A Clause, a B Clause, and a C Clause.

The A Clause describes a person, usually your protagonist. These include “a person in love,” “a lawless person,” etc. Just so the bases are covered, there’s “any person” in case you come up with someone the author of the system didn’t think of.

The B Clause is a goal or complicating circumstance. Examples are “falling into misfortune through the wiles of a crafty schemer,” “seeking retaliation for a grievous wrong that is either real or imagined,” “seeking secretly to preserve another from danger,” etc.

The C Clause is the result of the first two. This is a relatively short list, including things such as “emerges happily from a serious entanglement,” “achieves a spiritual victory,” “discovers the folly of trying to appear otherwise than one is in reality,” etc. More of a moral of the tale from the ones I chose.

You can see that I was taken right back to where I was almost a week ago. I needed to know my characters better. Fortunately, my subconscious (or my muse, whichever you prefer) had been working on this while I did other things over the weekend. As I thought about the little bits and pieces I had so far, it dawned on me that the victim wasn’t who I thought it was, but a totally new character. And the killer wasn’t who I thought it was, either. This was also a new character, but one based on a real person I’d been reading about. And, best yet, I knew what the inciting incident was!

Meanwhile, since I’ve been reading yet another book on how to write a cozy mystery, another part of my brain was mulling over the other series I want to start writing this year. So in between thinking about the Shipwreck Point characters, I started getting ideas for the characters in the other series as well. And filling in the backstory as to why these people in this setting.

Anyway, I was doing quite well until I realized it was almost lunchtime and I needed to go to the grocery store. I’m hoping to pick up my plotting tomorrow.


July 16, 2021 - Pirates!

Friday, July 16, 2021

When I get stuck, it often helps to "fill the well" by reading or doing research. This morning I finished reading The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found. The Whydah was a pirate ship filled with merchant goods and treasure that sank off the coast of Cape Cod in 1710 during a storm. Many tried to find it—and the treasure, of course—but it was only in the 1980s that a modern-day treasure hunter was able to use a combination of historical research and technology to discover its location.

This book, which is technically YA, had some interesting information, both true and false, about pirates in general and this ship in particular. And, in comparing the history to my fictional scenario, I resolved a number of key points about the book. For one thing, I determined who the victim and the killer are in this mystery. I also remembered a character I introduced in an earlier book who can possibly play a large role in this one. And I noodled about other potential suspects.

After an auspicious start, I decided it was time to put some more work in on my map of Shipwreck Point. I'm still not nearly done, but I made good progress.

And finally, I spent an hour and a half searching for an image for the book cover. I'd like to have that done before I leave off this project and move on to "Return to Rainbow Ranch." But, as is quite usual, I couldn't find a photograph that matched the image I had in my head, so just flagged some that "might do."


July 14, 2021 - Characters

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Yes, I’m cheating. I was too tired last night to write this post, so I’m doing it the following morning.

I reread the first part of the Plotto instruction manual to try to get grounded in the method again. I supposedly had done the first exercise (but not recently), where you choose the Masterplot you want for your story. I couldn’t find any record of having done that, though, so back to square one.

As I started to look at the Masterplot structure, I wasn’t sure I could move ahead because all plots start with a character. And I don’t know a lot about the characters in this story.

Oh, of course I know Titus Strong and Elisabeth Wade and Owen Campbell, but what makes mysteries different from other genres is that the major characters are usually your victim, your killer, and your primary suspect. The main character detective and his or her team aren’t as central to the plot as in, say, romance. Their stories are more likely to be subplots rather than the main plot.

I don’t know the key players in this mystery yet. Worse, when I went back to the small notebook where I jot down story ideas, I discovered that the person I’d been thinking of as my primary suspect, I’d said was going to be the murder victim. Why?

This situation is a little daunting when you wanted to be done with the bones of the outline in another week, and the fleshed out outline by the end of the month. Anyway, back to characters. Most of my characters don’t spring into my mind out of the ether. They usually start with either a real person or someone else’s fictional character. With that as a start, I think about other aspects of their personality, behaviors of other people who are a little like the original inspiration, etc.

So, rather than working on plotting, I have switched to character. In a way. Because I really wanted to read up more on pirates, even though they don’t appear as live people in this novel. So I spent some time reading The Whydah: A Pirate Ship Feared, Wrecked, and Found by Martin W. Sandler, which is really interesting.


July 13, 2021 This and That

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

 No new words today, not that any were expected. But I also didn't do much as far as planning the next book.

Instead, I spent a couple of hours updating my map of Shipwreck Point. I need it as a reference when I write the stories, and I seem to add a few locations with every book. I originally started it in Gimp, but after they lost their Mac developer, there were some issues with the program that weren't getting fixed. So I started learning Photoshop Elements. Unfortunately, while I could export a Photoshop file from Gimp, it didn't have the details I need to keep a real map, so I had to start from scratch. It's a time-consuming process, but it will be worthwhile in the long run.

Then I read a book I got from the library on enneagrams, hoping to get ideas for new characters. It's been a long time since I read a psychology textbook, which this is very similar to, and it was slow going. But it does look like useful information, so I'll keep on going.


July 12, 2021 - More distractions

Monday, July 12, 2021

 My car decided to give me problems after I did my grocery shopping at Fry's yesterday morning. AAA said it wasn't the battery. I had to wait until this morning to get it towed because no place is open on Sunday. So this morning was a loss for productivity. (But I did finish my reread of Outlander.)

This afternoon, I forced myself to sit at my desk and read more of Million Dollar Outline, along with doing intermittent online research. Most of this section was on which books become bestsellers, what do they have in common, etc. I didn't find this very inspirational.

I hope tomorrow will be better.


July 10, 2021 - Ideas

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Today I used the study of plot as a jumping off point for ideas for my next book. My first source was Million Dollar Outlines by David Farland. He’s been writing and teaching writing for a long time. I’d probably sign up for one of his courses, but he’s a science fiction and fantasy writer, and I’d prefer to study with another mystery writer—if I can ever find one who I admire, respect, and who gives a course that has personal feedback on assignments. Anyway, for now books will have to do.

I highlighted several passages in the section I read:

“When we read, we buy into a shared dream, a shared fiction, and by doing so we put ourselves in emotional jeopardy.”

This statement particularly resonated with me because I’ve been rereading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. She’s an amazing writer, and what I’ve been impressed with in the last couple of days is the way she evokes emotions in the reader (me). There’s not only the romance, but Claire’s feelings of hollowness because she would so like to be a mother and can’t have a child. And Jamie’s feelings about his past come through as well.

Back to David Farland:

“As we read well-formed stories—tales where there is an ascending level of stress, doubt as to the outcome, followed by a conclusion where the stress is relieved.”

“What stories do: they simultaneously try to make sense of the world and entertain.”

Farland also throws in some science with his literary theory when talking about stories as a drug.

“Recent studies show that when we are confronted with a mystery and try to resolve it, the brain releases dopamine in order to reward us for the search. As soon as the answer to the mystery is found, the release of dopamine ceases, and serotonin gets released. In other words, we are rewarded in part just for the search, but the biggest reward comes from finding the answer.”

I don’t know about other writers, but especially when I’m starting a new book, I have to throw a lot of things into the pot of my brain and let them stew around for a while. One of the other things that got thrown in recently was watching a video on using enneagrams as the basis for developing characters. I’d heard about this before, but always considered it some kind of mumbo-jumbo and so ignored it. But the video made me curious and the author had set up the nine different types and their characteristics in Plottr (because that’s the business that interviewed her for the video), and it started to look interesting to me.

So while I was reading all the stuff on plot, in the background my brain was picking at those personality types and thinking about which ones would fit which characters. So I stopped for a bit and figured out one character in this book was not the victim, but the primary suspect, and using the characteristics of his type, I came up with a bunch of ideas for how he would behave.

With all of this stuff bubbling around, I came up with the first scene of the new book and a bit of the last scene. I’ve known for a while what the epilogue will be because it’s a thread I dropped in the first book of the series that I want to resolve in this one.

All in all, a very satisfying day.


July 9, 2021 One Step Forward

Friday, July 09, 2021

 No new words today, but I did have a lot of fun researching pirates and shipwrecks. And then I started going through a loosefleaf of puzzle articles I've collected to try to come up with what the Pirate's Puzzle is.


July 8, 2021 Back on Track

Thursday, July 08, 2021

Woohoo! Today I wrote 655 words and finished “Murder at a Masked Ball.” Naturally, this is just a first draft, but that was my aim for now. Depending on whether I’m selected for the anthology or not, I will revise this story later in the year, probably in August, according to how it will be published. The anthology has a strict word count limit, which I’m very close to, and so the story will stand pretty much as it is now for that. But if I’m going to distribute it to my newsletter subscribers, I’ll probably expand some of the scenes.

Since the end was in sight, over the past couple of days I’ve been thinking about the plot of the next novel. Not necessarily what the plot will be, but how I will develop it. I watched a YouTube video with David Farland on story development that was done recently, and in it he mentioned his book “Million Dollar Outlines.” I seemed to remember buying that in the past, and sure enough, I had the paperback on my bookshelf. Pristine. Untouched. Since I’m getting ruthless about how many print books I own, I decided it was time to open that book up and see if it was a keeper or not. I’ll let you know.

Then I spent an hour with the Plotto instruction manual. This was a method for developing plots that was popular in the pulp fiction era. Erle Stanley Gardner studied it and used it as the basis for his own method of plotting a mystery. One of the problems with Plotto is that most of the versions available are basically photocopies of the original book pages, and they’re in a very small type. A bigger problem is that all the elements for building a plot and suggestions for conflicts are given a number or letter combination. For instance, suggestion number 1018 starts with the following:

(606 ch A to F-A; 705 ch A to F-A or 638 ch A to F-A)

Yeah, plain as mud. You have to look up each of those codes in the appropriate list to make any sense of the thing. But I’m hoping that once I get comfortable with deciphering the thing, it will spark more ideas faster for plots for my books.


The Best Laid Plans

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

As Robert Burns said:

“The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men

          Gang aft agley,”

The last phrase I’ve always translated as Oft go astray, which is fairly close to the literal meaning.

This morning I had an unscheduled visit to the dentist. I won’t go into the details, but in addition to the time it took, I was not exactly in the mood to focus on writing when I got home. After a while, I thought I should take care of my monthly financial tasks, which I didn’t want to put off and miss paying any of my bills on time. So that took up part of my day.

Anyway, I’d watched a video with H. Clair Taylor yesterday on enneagrams, which I’ve always avoided since it sounded like mumbo jumbo to me, but what she described sounded like a good way to develop characters. Or at least an alternative method that might be interesting. So I found a book at the library and put it on reserve so I could investigate it further. I also made up a spreadsheet of the nine personality types, their fear, desire, ego fixation, and talk style, since I fully intended to start planning for The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle.

I didn’t.

Not wanting to break my writing streak so soon after I’d started, I forced myself to add 55 words to “Murder at a Masked Ball.” I know I’ll do better tomorrow since my sprint group meets for two hours, and they’ll motivate me.


Daily Progress for July 6, 2021

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

Today wasn’t quite as productive as yesterday. The construction crew that’s digging up the parking lot outside my office window arrived early this morning, making focusing on anything at my desk difficult.

But I knew I had to get my words written, and so the first thing I did was open up "Murder at a Masked Ball" and add 588 words to the story. Since I’d set a minimum of 500 words per day, I gave myself permission to be done with that.

Next I fixed the typos in The Case of the Troubled Tycoon that a reader sent to me (there’s always one more typo), reformatted the Kindle ebook and paperback, and uploaded the new version to Amazon.

By that time, the kitties were looking for their lunchtime treats, so I left my office and took care of them.

Rather than fighting with the construction, I remained in the living room and completed my reread of The Case of the Mysterious Madam. I’ve now got enough notes and a refreshed memory to begin plotting The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle.

And that was how my day went.


Progress for July 5, 2021

Monday, July 05, 2021

Mondays are usually productive days for me. I think it has to do with taking Sunday off, which means more rest, sleep, and diverting my brain with fun things. Today was no different.

I started my day by continuing my reread of The Case of the Mysterious Madam. Since the next book in the Shipwreck Point series will bring back some characters and ideas from the first book, I want to make sure I remember those correctly.

I wrote 1230 words on “Murder at a Masked Ball.” I’m close to the end now, and so my job is mostly to type as fast as my brain feeds me the story. If I hadn’t had so many other things to do today, I might have finished this.

I spent an hour in Photoshop Elements creating icons for my map of Shipwreck Point. This is something I use for my own reference when I need to know things like how far Elisabeth’s bungalow is from the gentlemen’s club. I haven’t kept it up to date lately, so there’s a lot I have to update. I might also share this on my website in the future.

Last, but not least, I wrote my July newsletter, about 400 words, and scheduled it to be mailed out tomorrow morning.

If I get half as much done tomorrow as I did today, I’ll be a very happy writer!


The Plan

Sunday, July 04, 2021


Happy 4th of July!

We’ve reached the midpoint of 2021 (How did that happen?), and so it’s time to reflect on what I’ve accomplished so far and what my plans are for the rest of the year. I tend to have a “Squirrel!” personality when it comes to writing projects. Each new idea looks bright and shiny to me, and it’s too easy to jump from one thing to another without finishing anything. That’s why I need to have a plan.

But first:

What I’ve Accomplished

I planned, plotted, wrote, revised, and released The Case of the Troubled Tycoon. Phew!

I had no idea how difficult this book would be to write. I had an ambitious plan as to how this novel would be a little different from the previous books, which meant considerable study to pull it off. I also had the usual research regarding the time period, including events, the economy, and technology in this one. Yes, the telephone is considered technology. And I made a decision about a subplot that turned out to be a poor one, but I only admitted that after the book had gone to my beta readers and one of them took me to task over it.

I dragged my feet on working on the novel consistently, which should have told me I’d gone off the rails, but no, I’m too stubborn for that. Eventually, I realized my ambition was a big stumbling block, and if I was ever going to finish the book, I needed to abandon that idea and write this book just like the others in the series.

Once I started doing that, things went a lot smoother.

The second thing I did was come up with and follow a plan to promote my books that has at last put me in the black for this year. That’s been something that’s been difficult to achieve in the past, so I’m proud of making the necessary adjustments.

What’s Ahead

First up is finishing a short story, “Murder at a Masked Ball”, for a Halloween cozy mystery anthology. This uses the Shipwreck Point characters and setting, with a slight difference from the novels. I submitted the first 500 words a week ago, and I’m waiting to hear back on whether it’s been accepted or not. I’m hopeful, but if it isn’t, I’ll be sharing it with my newsletter subscribers in the fall as a bonus.

Then, I’m going to outline the next book in the Shipwreck Point Mysteries, a novel with the working title of The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle. I loved the whole idea of a sunken treasure that I introduced in the first book, and it’s time to follow up on that thread. I’m not going to write the book, but I do want to sketch out the plot while my mind is immersed in this series so that when I do come back to it, I’ll have a running start. Because I’m going to dare to do something I haven’t felt able to do before. I’m going to try to write two series at once.

Which means that my next writing project will be to complete another short story, this one titled “Return to Rainbow Ranch.” I started this earlier in the year, but because of the “Squirrel!” I mentioned above, I stopped work on it to write the Shipwreck Point Halloween story. “Return” will be a transition story between the end of my African Violet Club Mysteries and the new Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. I’m going to take Lilliana and Christopher off in a slightly new direction. I don’t plan on abandoning all the characters from the previous series, though. I see them as making cameo appearances in the new books.

This will be followed by the first mystery novel in the new series, which doesn’t have a title or much of a plot yet. Still, I hope to release it before the end of the year.

There’s more I’m planning, but with what I said in the last sentence, I’m afraid that will have to wait until 2022. I want to get back on track so I can release 3-4 books a year without a struggle. But there’s a lot of work to do to get to that point again. So, in order to keep myself accountable, I’m going to turn this blog into a daily accomplishment thread, daily being defined as every day except Sunday. Each day, I’ll report on my writing progress, with the hope that having the commitment to put that out in public, I’ll be more motivated to keep going.

If you’d like to help me get there, please comment, if not every day, then maybe once a week. Even just a few words would help a lot. Wish me luck!


Opportunity Cost

Friday, January 15, 2021

Words and Letter Machine


No, this isn’t going to be an accounting lecture, although I will explain the principle. It was the title of a podcast by superstar fantasy author Brandon Sanderson that I listened to this morning, and what he described was exactly the dilemma I’ve been having for the past year.

In business, before deciding whether to introduce or continue to produce a product, the first thing a company has to figure out is if that product will be or will continue to be profitable. So the accountant adds up all the things that go into making a product: materials, labor, packaging, shipping, advertising, etc., and then subtracts that from the price he or she believes the company can charge for it. If the number is positive, the product might be approved. Might, because someone has to do sales forecasting and see if there will be enough customers who will buy the product to generate that profit. Someone has to do market research and see what their competition is like.

But there’s one more thing they factor into this, and that’s called the opportunity cost. A factory is only so big, there are only so many workers, and they can only make so many products at a time. Suppose they are contemplating making a widget, a doodad, and a gizmo. After the analysis, all three of them are profitable products, but they can’t make all three. If they decide to make the widget, they’ve lost the opportunity to make the gizmo and/or the doodad. Suppose the gizmo turns out to be the Pet Rock of that Christmas?

The decision becomes a lot more complicated.

So, back to books. (You thought I’d never get there, didn’t you?)

Approximately a year and a half ago, I saw that my African Violet Club Mysteries weren’t selling all that well. Although there were several readers who had written me and told me how much they enjoyed the books, there were a number of critical reviews for True Blue Murder that told me I’d missed the mark with one aspect of the stories. I also had ideas for other books and other series.The thing is, at this point in my writing career, I can only write one book, or series, at a time.

Without consciously doing it, I brought to an end all the continuing themes in the African Violet Club Mysteries when I wrote Holly Green Murder. My subconscious made the decision for me.

Joyfully, I moved on the the Shipwreck Point Mysteries, one of those series I’d been dying to write. I plunged myself into the setting and the characters and published four books in that series last year. My plan was to publish three more books that take place in Shipwreck Point this year.

Meanwhile, I wanted to try something to boost my sales. The Shipwreck Point books were a little too new to start discounting, but I thought I might use the old series for this. It wasn’t making much money anyway, so when I heard about the Freebooksy series ads, I thought making True Blue Murder free and all the other books 99 cents would work to make December a good month.

I didn’t realize that it would also make January a good month. In fact, so many readers have discovered this series that I’ve already had a question or two about more books in it. :::headdesk:::

Inside, author-me is screaming That wasn’t the plan! I was only writing three Shipwreck Point books this year because I wanted to try my hand at another series, with the hope that by then I’d be ready to write two series at the same time.

Can you see the opportunity cost yet? If I decide to write more African Violet Club mysteries, I won’t be able to write a new series. I might not even be able to write three Shipwreck Point mysteries. But if I don’t hurry and release a new African Violet Club book, I might lose all those readers I just gained! But if I do that, I’ll never get to try the next series this year.



I’m trying to be a big girl about this, trying to think about it like a businessperson. Even if I dropped everything I’ve started in 2021 today, it would take me a while to write the seventh book in the African Violet Club Mysteries. I’d have to reread all the books to refresh my memory, decide what direction to take the series in (the same thing it’s been for six books or something slightly different?), then come up with an idea or three for that series. What is the cost to the Shipwreck Point series if I stop releasing frequently to do this?

I haven’t got a clear—or even foggy—idea for what the next series will be. I was going to take the first six months of 2021 to browse through my story idea notebook and see which one of those caught my imagination. So I can’t even say whether the new series would be fantastic or a dud. I don’t know what it would cost me not to write it.

Since this is all too much for my poor brain, what I’m going to do right now is continue with the fifth book in the Shipwreck Point series and try not to think too hard about what the next book will be. Or at least not think about it during writing hours for the current book. But not thinking about it will cost the development of the two series that are not the Shipwreck Point series something.

I think I need to watch Brandon Sanderson’s video again.


Who is Titus Strong?

Saturday, January 02, 2021

To be an effective criminal defense counsel, an attorney must be prepared to be demanding, outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, a rogue, a renegade, and a hated, isolated, and lonely person — few love a spokesman for the despised and the damned.

Clarence Darrow

As I start to plan the next book in the Shipwreck Point Mysteries, I’m taking a look at notes I made when starting the series. I do this each time, refreshing my memory as to what my vision was for the stories and the characters. I compare that vision to how the books have developed, and weigh the two against one another. Are they still they same? If not, is one better than the other?

As you might have guessed, the quote above contributed heavily to my concept of Titus Strong. This played out in the first book as Titus took as a client the madam of a popular bawdy house in the town of Whitby. Not many attorneys would consider defending a lady of Katie Sullivan’s reputation.

But Titus is different than most attorneys. He came from a lowly background, dreamed of becoming a wealthy member of the upper class, and discovered his dream, once he achieved it, was a nightmare.

He’s grown through the course of the books, generally for the better, but he still has doubts about which way he is headed. I think he’ll always battle with what the two sides of him want.

I’m thinking this will form a key part of the tale in the next book. I’ll be thinking a lot about whether Titus is blasphemous, hated, and isolated as well as demanding and a renegade. It might be interesting to write that, but I'm not so sure readers will want to read it.

And so I have my own personal dilemma to battle with. I'll let you know how that turns out.

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A Clash of Kings
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