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. 😉

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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,

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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.


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