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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!


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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.


Wahhhh!!!


Ahem.


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.

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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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