Unstuck

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Well, that didn’t take long.

Over the weekend, I decided to listen to some of the writing and marketing podcasts I used to follow religiously. I stopped doing this because I’d listened to so many podcasts, read so many blogs, taken so many courses, and yes, written so many books, I knew just about everything they told me. The problem with that is it’s easy to forget what you once knew when you’re focusing on publication deadlines and building your mailing list and all the other things that are not writing.

In the process of listening, things that were covered in the podcasts reminded me of what I already knew, but my conscious mind had forgotten. And I realized that what Bury Me Not was missing was an emotional hook. 

Now, plot is important, particularly in mystery novels, but what keeps the reader’s interest—and the author’s as well—is what’s going on with the characters. I was spending all my brainpower on trying to visualize the plot for this book. But I didn’t really care about what happened because it didn’t matter to any of the characters. Not in a real, engaging sort of way. That lack of emotional resonance should have been as obvious as a blood trail on six inches of new fallen snow, but it wasn’t until I heard something like it on one of those podcasts.

Sometimes this is called the theme of the book. I generally haven’t written with theme in mind because I didn’t usually have to think about it. It just shows up organically in the writing. For some reason, that didn’t happen this time. So I started thinking about that. As a jumping off point, I reminded myself of what it had been in Homicide on the Range. Once I had that, I realized I could continue from there in a similar vein. I just wasn’t sure how.

That was where the second new old idea came in. Something I read or heard during this phase mentioned journaling and the lightbulb went on. When I used to have trouble writing a book, I’d get up from my computer, go sit at my dining room table with a notebook and pen, and free write about whatever the problem was. Writing by hand uses a different part of the brain than typing does, so it often pulls out different ideas. I decided to try that.

Pretty soon, all kinds of ideas were flowing out of that pen, and I knew exactly what I needed to write next. So today I wrote 2,000 words and I wasn’t fighting myself to get them.

Don’t cancel that pre-order yet.

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September 22, 2022 - Struggles

Thursday, September 22, 2022

What was that I said about the story going much faster now?

That was optimistic. And untrue.

I find myself avoiding getting to my computer and actually writing this week. After a few days of struggling to write Bury Me Not, I realized something was wrong, especially when I started spending my time reading blog posts and attending webinars and looking at more classes. So I knew I had to figure out why I’m avoiding this story.

I was so excited when I came up with the idea for the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. I bragged about having ideas for seven books in the series. I still think they’re good ideas. But they’re not getting me excited now. Worse than that, I started getting tension headaches. When I got a full-blown ocular migraine last week, I knew I had to ease off on myself. But I still want to write.

Well, what did I want to write then?

I thought about the Shipwreck Point Mysteries, and yes, I really do want to write The Case of the Impossible Illusion, but not just yet.

Then one day an idea drifted through my mind, and I was filled with excitement. It was the genre I wanted to write when I first started, but I failed miserably at it, which was why I stopped. I didn’t know how to write it or what flavor or subgenre was calling me. I still have those problems, but there’s a way to fix that.

One thing I need to do is read a bunch of books that are not cozy or historical mysteries. I bought a few of the bestsellers in the new genre this week and have started reading one of those now. The other is a plan for how to make this new venture a reality for me, by adding a writing group or course or something to the mix. I’ve been researching that this week and might have one possibility. (It’s more fun than writing right now.)

I will finish and publish Bury Me Not on schedule. I believe in keeping commitments. But there’s a good chance I’ll tell people to cancel their pre-orders and not spend money on it. Unless I surprise myself and the book turns out to be good despite my struggles.

But after that, I’m going to change up my routine. I’m going to do that reading and studying, exploring the possibilities. And get my website and newsletter revised. And maybe try writing some short stories as a challenge.

Bear with me. I’ll figure it out. Eventually. And, hopefully, I will come out with the best series I’ve ever written in the end.

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The End of Act One

Friday, September 16, 2022

I use a four act structure to write my mystery novels. It makes more sense to me than calling it a three act structure and having two halves of act two, which means act two is twice as long as the other two acts. It doesn’t really matter, except for the fact that one rule of thumb for mysteries is that the murder should occur in the first quarter of the book, which just happens to coincide with the end of act one.

As the title of this blog says, I reached that point in Bury Me Not today. Yay!

Of course, I should be a lot further along if I want to finish the book by the end of this month, but beginnings are hard. First of all, the characters have to take shape in my imagination. I generally have to come up with the cast of characters, including pictures of what they look like, before I start writing. I also frequently have to add characters as I go, but those are usually minor rather than major characters.

I almost always know who the victim is. Sometimes I know why he or she was killed, but not always. This is where those characters come in again. Most of the new characters are suspects, and each one has to have a unique motive to kill the victim. That means they each have a history, which is a lot of what I think about at the beginning of a book.

That gives me the first of the three elements of a crime: motive. Next up is means: the way the victim was killed. That also goes along with the suspects. You can’t have a person who’s squeamish about blood stab someone to death or hack them apart with an ax. And last is opportunity. It has to be likely that the circumstances of the crime fit where the suspect was at the time and what they were doing.

That’s why the first part of a new book takes so long to write. The rest of the story generally goes a lot faster. At least, I’m hoping it will. And so are my readers.

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So Many Balls in the Air!

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

All of a sudden, my life has become very busy. With the end of The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle in sight, I thought I would have time for some new projects. The problem is, no one was keeping track of how many things I signed up for. Okay, I should have been doing that, but when I get in one of these moods, it’s a kind of mania. I can do this! I can do that! I can do something else! And while I’m at it, let me try the other thing, too!


So what have I been up to?


First of all, finishing up the details for Pirate’s Puzzle. I formatted and designed a cover for the paperback version, but when the proof arrived, I realized I’d ordered the matte cover instead of the glossy, and the image and text box were far from centered. So I spent a day, maybe more, fiddling with the cover some more to make it look better, and ordered another proof copy with a glossy cover so I can make sure it looks good before pressing that PUBLISH button. That should arrive by Saturday.

Meanwhile, Tammi Labrecque, also known as the Newsletter Ninja, was running her once a year session of her class on Advanced Automations. I’ve been meaning to revamp my newsletter processing, and thought this would be the kick in the butt I needed to start making progress on it. But as I went through the class, I realized that it didn’t make sense to change the signup forms and introductory sequence for new readers before redoing my website.

The website has become problematic over the last year. During the pandemic, the people I bought my custom theme from went out of business. What that means is no support to figure out how to do something I haven’t tried before or if something breaks. It also requires digging into the HTML code in order to change some things, like the pictures displayed by the slider at the top of my home page, which is why the New Release one still has Homicide on the Range displaying rather than The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle. I don’t have time to muck with those things and keep my writing schedule.

So, as part of a class I bought from Mark Dawson on marketing, there’s a whole section on how to set up a website with Wix, which has both free and reasonably priced paid options. It’s modern, drag and drop, and is developed and supported by a real company (we’ll ignore the fact that it’s based in the Ukraine for now). Of course, while it is objectively easier than using Wordpress, for example, there’s still a learning curve. And I’m still learning.

So the changes to the newsletter are waiting on the changes to the website, which I’ve barely started.

Of course, it’s also time to start the next Rainbow Ranch Mystery (working title Bury Me Not), but I only have the barest idea of what that one will be about. And, getting back to the newsletter side of things, I really need a separate reader magnet for this series. So, rather than writing a brand new story, I decided I could take “Return to Rainbow Ranch”, a novella I wrote to bridge the time between the African Violet Club series and the Rainbow Ranch Mysteries, and rework it so it was definitely a standalone story. I finished that today. But "Death in the Desert", the new story, needs a new cover, so the next thing I tackled was trying to figure out what that would look like. I’m not satisfied with what I’ve got right now, so I’m waiting until tomorrow or Friday to take another look at what I can do there.

Oh, and along the way I joined a women’s Bible study group, and was persuaded to take a Member-At-Large position on my church’s Board of Directors.

As if that wasn’t enough, my brain keeps wanting to think about the next Shipwreck Point mystery and the third Rainbow Ranch mystery.

And I need to do a thorough cleaning and organizing of my office. I usually do that after I publish a novel, but somehow this time I’ve got stacks of stuff all over the place, the bookcases have become totally disorganized (and dusty), and I still haven’t filed all the financial stuff from the last few months.

So how is your life going?

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Happy Book Birthday!

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

I know I’ve been MIA for a while, but sometimes writing and publishing a book takes all the time and energy I have. The good news is that The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle is now live on Amazon!

Those of you who pre-ordered the ebook should have received it on your device of choice this morning. Those who didn’t can buy it now. And those of you who have Kindle Unlimited can borrow it right this minute.

I especially enjoyed writing this book because the puzzle is both a cipher and a riddle. As a child, I loved figuring out ciphers. We called them codes back then because we didn’t know the difference between a code and a cipher. If you don’t know, either, there’s an explanation in the book.

If you prefer print books to ebooks, you’ll have to wait a little longer. I’ve ordered the proof copy so I can make sure everything is formatted correctly. I should receive that a week from now. If everything looks good (cross you fingers), I’ll approve it within a day or so and it will be ready to buy.

Buy or Borrow The Case of the Pirate's Puzzle

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June 8, 2022 - Almost Finished

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle is nearly done. I’m in that rush to the end where all the pieces start to come together in preparation for the climactic scene. For the first time, I actually know what all of the scenes that remain will be. Well, except for the courtroom scene. That’s still kind of hazy.

But the clues are in place, the puzzling out of how they fit together is in progress, and the resolution of all the open loops I started in this book is in sight. Which means today was a really good writing day.

There’s only one problem. It’s also the stage where I don’t want to finish the book.

Have you ever read a book that you couldn’t put down? You were so eager to find out what happens next, you kept reading. You stay up late, put off chores for just a day or two, and read as fast as you can. Until you get to the last chapter. That’s when you realize the book has been so good, you don’t want it to end. You want to continue reading about these characters. You don’t want to have come to the end of the story.

It’s the same way for me when writing a book. Just as I reach the point where I’m almost done, I don’t want the writing to end. I tell myself there’s plenty of time until the deadline, so I don’t have to rush. I make up stuff to do other than writing those final chapters.

Weird, huh?

But that’s the way things go, and to get the book done takes a lot of discipline. Let’s hope I can manage that over the next week so I can publish the book!

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May 31, 2022 - What I've Been Doing

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Yes, it’s been a while since I posted. I’ve been sucked into the Johnny Depp vs Amber Heard trial this month. I first started watching as “research” for the Shipwreck Point Series, which features a lawyer. But I’ve also been a Johnny Depp fan all the way back to 21 Jump Street. And, like almost everyone else, I loved his campy performance in the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Then, also like almost everyone else, I heard something about him abusing his wife, and suddenly I didn’t feel like watching anything that he was in, even though I own DVDs of Finding Neverland (a favorite), Donnie Brasco, and even Sweeney Todd. So the defamation lawsuit intrigued me, and I’ve watched most of each day’s testimony as it happened.

That was how I learned that things were not as they seemed. Based on the evidence, he was not the abuser in that relationship. She was.

Enough of that except to say that all is left is for the jury to render a verdict, so I’ve gotten most of my day back to return to writing. I’m closing in on the end of the first draft of The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle, which hopefully will be almost a final draft. I’ve also designed two different covers for the book and polled my newsletter subscribers and an author group I belong to as to which one to use. I am now totally confused, because the readers overwhelmingly liked one cover and the writers overwhelmingly liked the other.

I can’t believe tomorrow is June already. Look for my newsletter next Tuesday. There will be something in it (well more than one something, I hope) that you’re sure to want to know about.

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May 12, 2022 - Progress!

Thursday, May 12, 2022

I’m happy to report that I’m making steady, if slow, progress on writing The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle. With the pressure of meeting a daily word count gone, I’m thoroughly enjoying this book now. I take the time to research things like what an Italian restaurant menu would look like so Elisabeth and Stella can have lunch at one before writing the scene. Previously, I would have inserted one of those XXX markers to do that in revision. But, as I think I’ve said before, that makes the revision stage exceedingly tedious and frustrating.

This method also leaves time for sudden inspiration. Earlier today, while not working on the book, an idea for how I could slowly introduce my killer blossomed, seemingly out of nowhere. It’s always tricky to keep the murderer hidden, yet still play fair with the reader. Half of the fun of reading mysteries is in trying to figure out whodunit before the answer is revealed. But it can’t be too easy. And so I made a quick note before I made breakfast, because I tend to remember that I had an idea, but not necessarily what it was if I wait too long. It was sitting there for me when I actually sat down to write this morning.

Then, after a longish nap this afternoon, I was ready to go back to working on the cover. Cover design is always a lot of trial and error, playing with different ideas before the right combination clicks. I like what I’ve got right now, but I also have an alternate version that I might use. I’ll have to try that tomorrow, as it’s getting late. If you’re reading this on my actual blog, here’s a thumbnail of what I have tonight.

Pirate's Puzzle Book Cover

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April 27, 2022 - The Reset

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

While working on The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle this month, I found myself repeating a pattern. A not very satisfactory pattern. I had set up a production schedule for this book, like I usually do, by working backwards from my desired release date. I then work backwards from there, putting in dates for formatting the book, proofreading, revisions based on beta reader feedback, date to get the book to beta readers, dates to finish revisions, and finally, dates left for writing. I then calculate word count goals based on how many words I want to be in the book (usually 50-60,000) divided by the number of writing days. Most of the time, I’ll realize my schedule is too ambitious and have to change the release date and rework all the rest to give me a reasonable number of words to write each day.

What has happened every single time (except for the first books I wrote when I didn’t have the concept of deadlines) is that I almost immediately fall behind. Plotting, research, character development, and writing all take a lot longer than I planned for. I react by doing two opposite things: writing for more hours than I’m comfortable with on some days and not writing at all on others because I’m sick of spending all my time sitting at my computer. Meanwhile, other things, like blogging, writing newsletters, advertising, designing covers, etc., don’t get done either.

So at the beginning of last week, I spent significant time thinking about what I wanted from my writing. That quickly became a broader question: What do I want from my life? And, after much soul-searching and prayer, I knew what I wanted in my life was Balance. I’ve already put in 60-70 hours a week when I had a day job. I don’t really want to spend my “retirement” working that way.

That was all well and good, but I didn’t change my habits. I was still largely driven by word count goals. It was only yesterday that I realized that instead of budgeting how many words I would write every day, I would budget my time and track how many hours I spent writing. In other words, I’m going to try to use what Elana Johnson calls “time blocks.” I’ll spend two hours per day writing (which also includes planning, research, “cycling”, and whatever else goes into making a story) and when the two hours are up, I’m done with writing for the day no matter how many—or how few—words I’ve written.

I’ll next take a break, then attack a different task, like updating my website, allowing a specific amount of time for that and then, when the time is up, stop. If I’ve only completed half of what I wanted to do in that time, so be it. Because if I get hung up on finishing every task on my list no matter how long it takes, I’ll need forty-eight hour days. And at my age, time is precious.

If I do this right, instead of being behind on everything, I mean seriously behind because I haven’t even started some tasks that are past their deadline, I’ll at least have made some progress on most, if not all, of them.

So The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle probably won’t be published in June. And it will take longer for me to publish the second book in my Rainbow Ranch Mysteries. But I’m not going to worry about that for now. I’m going to try not to fume and fret over my writing and try to enjoy it again instead.

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April 14, 2022 - Writing Styles

Thursday, April 14, 2022

No, I don’t mean the style of language an author uses, although that might be an interesting topic. I do know that my Shipwreck Point Mysteries are written in a style reminiscent of the time period in which they occur (longer sentences, vocabulary choices, etc.), while my mysteries featuring Lilliana are much more casual in language and structure.

What I’m talking about is the style in which each author constructs their writing. Or they way they practice their craft.

Maybe it’s because I began seriously writing novels during National Novel Writing Month, which focuses on getting a specific word count each day, but for years that’s how I wrote my novels. I bought into the outline, write a rough first draft, revise, hand it to beta readers, revise again based on their feedback, edit for grammar, punctuation, spelling, etc., and proofread process, sometimes with multiple revisions before moving on to the next step.

But recently, I’m trying more of Dean Wesley Smith’s method of writing fiction. First of all, no outline in advance. Now, he says no planning, just start typing, but I’m not ready to do that yet. I have my victim, my primary suspect, the killer, other suspects, a motive, method, and setting for the murder before I begin. Otherwise, I haven’t got a clue how to start. But the only actual scene I probably have in my head is the “Aha!” moment when the sleuth figures out who did it. But not always.

And then I start writing the story, doing what Dean calls writing a clean first draft. In method one, where number of words in a time period is what you’re aiming for, if you need a new character, you type in XXX as a placeholder for that character’s name and keep going. It’s in the revision stage that you actually name the character and flesh out the details. In writing a clean first draft, you stop right there and figure out the name, and if you’re me, pick out a picture of what that character looks like, and maybe some basic characteristics. If you need to do some research, say as to whether a word was in use in 1895, rather than scribbling a note to check that later, you stop and look it up immediately. If you stumble over a plot hole, instead of making another note to fix the plot hole in revision, you cycle back, plug the hole, then keep writing forward.

That “cycling” is a big part of writing a clean first draft. You start each day by rereading what you wrote the day before, correcting typos, changing wording, adding some sentences or phrases to make the writing clearer, etc. If you get stuck in the story, you cycle back and find where the story went astray, fix that, add or delete as necessary, then continue where you left off.

I’m finding this method a lot more satisfying than leaving a bunch of Xs and notes and a big mess that has to be torn apart a couple of months later. I’m not getting as many words written on a daily basis as I used to, but I think they’re better words. And the class I took with Dean Wesley Smith where I tracked the time taken to do it both ways proved to me that the first way wasn’t any faster than the second. In fact, it often took longer because I’d forgotten what I’d meant to write the first time and had to figure that out before I could proceed.

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April 4, 2022 - So Many Stories, So Little Time

Monday, April 04, 2022

I used to be one of those who wondered where writers got their ideas. It seemed to me it took a lot of work to come up with something worthy of the time and effort to write it.

I still think it’s harder than the blithe statement of some authors that they have ideas all the time. I don’t. But it doesn’t take that many before you have too many to ever write the stories that go with them.

You see, an idea for a story can be just a little thing. Sometimes it’s a setting. For instance, for the past few weeks my mailbox has been filled with solicitations from Arizona non-profit organizations. There’s a special Arizona tax credit for non-profit donations, and you can take it up until filing day rather than having to give the money during the past year. One of those solicitations was from Tohono Chul Park, one of my favorite places in Tucson. And I thought it would make a perfect place for a murder. Originally, I was thinking about a story set at the Botanical Gardens, but it doesn’t have the off-the-beaten-track paths that Tohono Chul does. And as I was thinking about that story, I wished there was a way to have the murder happen at night.

Wait! There is. On one night a year, Tohono Chul is open so people can see the Night Blooming Cereus, a flower that blooms for only one night. The park is very dark at night. There are no lights on most of the paths and you’re cautioned to bring a flashlight so you can see where you’re going. And even better, the Night Blooming Cereus has another name: Queen of the Night. Doesn’t that just give you chills?

Okay, that’s all I’ve got so far, but it’s the kind of idea that even with very little else, I know I want to write.

And then this morning, I was reading through a Kickstarter campaign and trying to figure out whether I wanted to support it or not. This is another one by Dean Wesley Smith, and it’s ostensibly for the next book in his Seeders Universe series, but it’s really a way to encourage people to sign up for his classes. You see, the stretch goals also include getting classes that run for $150-$300 each for only $45 pledged to the Kickstarter. Now, I don’t write science fiction, but the class names all got me thinking that I’d like to. I used to read nothing but SF in my teens and early twenties, and it would be a change of pace from mystery. I was “this close” to donating the money, but when I tried, I couldn’t. The deadline to pledge was over the weekend. My bad.

But I’m still thinking about a science fiction series. I’ve got a bunch of Michio Kaku books, many of which I haven’t read yet, that I know will generate about a million story ideas if I open them up. I mean, how could a book with the title Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel not give you a hundred all on its own?

Which brings up one of my problems. I need to read more to branch out into science fiction or revisit that western/romance/adventure/family saga series I started a couple of years ago. Now, I love research, but I also have to keep publishing books to keep the royalties coming in. And that means writing more of what I’ve already started, not cuddling up with a library of books to read.

Anyway, I finished my words on The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle today, and now I’ve done my writing diary blog entry, so I should get to some of that reading. Until next time.

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March 30, 2022 - Writer's Block

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

There was a time when I believed in this. Back when I first seriously started on my path to be a writer, I remember endless conversations in writer and critique groups about writer’s block. There was one person in a group I attended who moaned about being blocked for a year. They hadn’t written anything for twelve months. There were many sympathetic comments, the most intelligent of which was something like “Tsk. Tsk.” While all this was going on, I was wondering why in the world did they continue to come to a writers group if they weren’t writing?

Back before I knew better, I might have called what’s been going on with me this week writer’s block. I was struggling to come up with something—anything—to get me started on The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle again. Mid-morning, when I could no longer find any notes on concepts and plot points I wanted to include in this book, I knew I was procrastinating. I didn’t need to do more research or planning or reviewing. I needed to start writing. Because, as John Rogers (who is the creator of Leverage and The Librarians, among other things) said:


You can’t think yourself out of a writing block; you have to write yourself out of a thinking block.


I knew I was at that point this morning. I knew that the only way I’d get going on the story again was to start writing, even if what I wrote wasn’t very good. Even if I had no idea where the new scene was going. All I had to do, as Dean Wesley Smith says, was write the next sentence. Because anyone can write one sentence, even if they’re “blocked.” And when you’ve finished that one, Write the next sentence. Lather, rinse, repeat. By the time you’ve written four or five sentences, your brain is on autopilot, and you usually don’t have time to think about writer’s block.

Even so, it probably took me another thirty minutes before I created a new document and started typing. And, by the time I quit writing for the day, I had 1833 words of the 1500 I’d set as a goal. Not bad for being “blocked.”

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March 28, 2022 - And Another Month is Winding Up

Monday, March 28, 2022

Or is that down? Both seem correct to me, but then I’m braindead right about now. After thinking I might start getting new words on The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle today, I was drawn into the ongoing issue with the newsletter signup on the Tucson Sisters in Crime website. With our webmistress about to tear out her hair, we decided it would be easier to switch the mailing list from MailChimp to MailerLite. Guess who gets to do that?

Yeah, me. I agreed to be the newsletter editor/maintenance person a few years ago when the current volunteer left the chapter. When no one else was willing to raise their hand, I raised mine, knowing that it was probably a lifetime commitment. It wouldn’t be so bad, except I’ve already spent the time to set up templates and such on MailChimp which will all have to be duplicated on MailerLite now. Plus, I haven’t heard back from the web person yet that the changes work.

On a happier note, the paperback version of Homicide on the Range is now available in the Amazon store! Yes, it did require some more fiddling, but I really like how the final version looks now.

I did manage to refresh my memory on some of what I’ve written so far on The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle in between website emails. And I adjusted all the dates in that project in Things for Mac, which I use to track everything in my life, including the publication tasks and schedule for my books. So perhaps I’ll actually do some writing tomorrow. Yay!

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March 20, 2022 - Not Exactly a Day of Rest

Sunday, March 20, 2022

I’ve had my schedule for the next couple of weeks planned out in my head all month. There was just one problem. It depended on the paperback of Homicide on the Range being finished before Monday, and I just ran out of energy by Friday afternoon.

A lot of that was used up by formatting the paperback version. I wanted to add a cowboy hat to the chapter headers and use an image of cowboy boots as a scene separator. It’s been a long time since I’ve done that, so I had to look in the manual (gasp!) and fiddle with it until the images were the right size and in the right place.

And then there was the cover. I can sort of shortcut that by using the ebook cover as a starting point, but there’s no spine or back cover for an ebook. And the print version is larger than the ebook version and has different requirements. So I only got halfway done before calling it quits.

Which meant that half-finished cover kept nagging me all afternoon. Eventually, I had to get on my computer and finish it. And upload it to Amazon. And order a proof.

Hopefully, I’ll get the proof copy of the book this week, and it will be fine. If not, more fiddling with it later on. But it can’t take much more time to get it right, so I’ll be able to move on to the next Shipwreck Point Mystery.



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March 17, 2022 Homicide on the Range is Ready for Release!

Thursday, March 17, 2022
It’s been a very busy week. 
For the first time in two years, the Tucson Festival of Books was a live event. Needless to say, I had a spot to sell my books in the Tucson Sisters in Crime Booth. Authors weren’t sure as to what kind of attendance to expect, since many are still fearful of COVID. Even if people showed up, who knew how many books they’d buy? 
The answer was a good number of people showed up and almost everyone was ready to buy books. The weather was perfect for strolling around the University of Arizona Mall. I wasn’t the only author who sold out of the copies of some titles they’d brought. It was amazing! 
Then, instead of recuperating on Monday, I had to get back to revising my next release. And wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I finished correcting the errors found by my last beta reader, a tail-end Charlie reader emailed her feedback. She, of course, had found things the others hadn’t, so I couldn’t put it aside. 
And between yesterday and today, I’ve been proofreading the book on my iPad, found more errors, corrected them, and then worked on the final formatting of the book so I could upload it to Amazon. I beat the deadline by one day (unless they reject my latest version, which was a prettying up of the plain vanilla version), and will move on to creating the paperback tomorrow. 
But right now, I think I’ll read a book or watch TV or take a nap. I could use the rest.
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March 3, 2022 - The Case of the Pirate's Puzzle

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Today was the second day I added new words to the sixth book in my Shipwreck Point series. I have to admit, there were only a few words yesterday, as I had to reread what I’d written so far to know what I needed to write next. Most of yesterday’s words were fixing up what I’d already done, changing wording, adding a few details that I thought the reader would need to understand what was going on, that kind of thing.

But today’s words were genuinely new parts of the story. I’m mostly writing this “into the dark” or “pantsing.” I have my primary suspect, a character readers of this series have met before, my victim, and, I think, the actual killer. I’m not exactly sure about that yet. I have several other suspects, all who have a valid reason to kill the victim. Of course. It wouldn’t be a very good mystery if the suspects didn’t all have motives.

What I need is what exactly the puzzle is. I’d started working on that before the break, and came up with a few ideas to base a puzzle around, but have no details on that. I suppose I should give that my attention tomorrow, but that means I won’t be adding to my word count for the book. However, since “puzzle” is in the title, I think I have to introduce what it is sooner rather than later, so I’ll pull out the looseleaf notebook I have with all kinds of articles on how to construct a puzzle (left over from the days when I thought I’d be writing interactive fiction) and the book I bought years ago on secret codes.

Meanwhile, I’ve been having fun writing this story.

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February 25, 2022 A Milestone Reached

Friday, February 25, 2022

Last night I sent Homicide on the Range off to my beta readers. This was supposed to happen Tuesday, but I ran into two glitches that had to be fixed before anyone except me saw the book.

The first one was that I had repeated much of the same information in two different scenes. This happens on a fairly regular basis with me. I have some incident or description or clue that seems just so good, I don’t want to forget to use it. But somehow I forget that I put it in chapter three and use it in chapter twenty-seven, too.

This is something I pick up in the revision stage. It’s not quite as straightforward as that, because by that time I’ve been over the book several times, and I’m never sure whether it’s actually in there more than once or I just remember it from the last time I read that section. So I have to search through the manuscript and find out which it is. Then, since the two occurrences aren’t exactly the same, I have to merge the information in both of them together. And decide where this gem should really go.

The second issue was more difficult. Toward the end of the book, I wrote this fascinating scene where one of the major characters has a change in direction in his or her life. (I don’t want to divulge who it was, so that’s why I’m writing it that way.) The thing is, even as I was writing this fascinating twist, a voice in the back of my head was saying, “That wouldn’t happen in a cozy mystery.” To which I responded, “So what? I love that development. And it’s written so well.” And the voice replied, “Wasn’t this supposed to be the series where you remained true to cozy conventions and didn’t go off in an unexpected direction?” “Well, yes, but this would be so much fun!” “You know you’ll lose some readers because of it.” Stubborn silence ensues.

In the end, I knew the voice was right, and so gave the character a different twist, something much more in line with cozy readers’ expectations. But it wasn’t easy.

Which is why I’m writing and posting this the next morning. I was too worn out from arguing with myself to do anything else last night.

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February 20, 2022 It Wasn't a Day of Rest

Sunday, February 20, 2022

I make it a practice to take Sunday off from writing tasks. Everyone needs a day to recharge and focus on other things like worship, reading, and sometimes going somewhere I don’t usually go during the week. But my goal was to send Homicide on the Range to my beta readers tomorrow—Tuesday at the latest—and I wasn’t through with revisions yet.



I really had to finish them, which I did in a way. I now have a stack of pages with red marks all over them. But I have yet to type them into the Scrivener documents. I don’t have enough energy to do that tonight, so it will have to wait another day.



Then Amazon rejected the cover on “Return to Rainbow Ranch”. I thought I’d adjusted the margins on the paperback enough to pass, but obviously I hadn’t. So early this morning I was tweaking that again. Now I’m waiting for it to pass review, which I hope it will be tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I got a new phone last weekend, and I’ve been procrastinating on setting it up because I know these things never go easily. But I have a deadline to return the old phone for credit, so I thought I’d better bite the bullet yesterday and switch over the phones.

Humph!

I knew I was in trouble when I found three (maybe four) slightly different sets of instructions on how to make the swap. That’s not counting the times my computer and/or phone didn’t respond with what the instructions said it should. I got to one of those points, and the instructions for the new phone told me to make a call to support on a different phone for assistance.

Except the only other phone I had was the old phone, which a previous instruction had told me to turn off or terrible things would happen. Back in the old days, I would have used my land line, but who has a land line now? So I turned on the old phone since I already had a problem and I had no other way to get help.

Of course, in walking me through what to do next, the support person warned me that I’d get cut off during one step. When that happened, I was supposed to turn on my new phone and follow the prompts there. She told me she’d call me back in 30-45 minutes.

What she didn’t allow for was that the changeover stopped to upgrade the operating system on the new phone, which made it unavailable to take any calls during that time frame. Anyway, after the usual aggravation, I now have the new phone operational and the old phone ready to ship back for credit.

Which is why I need some downtime tonight instead of making revisions.

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February 16, 2022 Moving Right Along

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Today was a good day, if you define that as making progress on my Work-In-Process. I am more than halfway done making revision notes on my printed copy of Homicide on the Range, and I should be able to finish up tomorrow or Friday.

Then, of course, comes making the actual changes to the Scrivener version. Scrivener is what I write in, for a lot of reasons which I won’t go into tonight. I must have written a blog post on it sometime in the past. If things work out, I should be able to send the book off to my beta readers no later than Monday, which is right on schedule.

I should have been able to do this sooner, but I struggled all of last week with applying myself to the task. I had no enthusiasm for the job and, as a result, procrastinated on sitting down to actually do it. And was easily distracted every time I began to work. The solution to that problem came in Sunday’s sermon at church.

I know, that sounds rather odd, and if you’d ever told me that church sermons would be good for mystery writing, I would have arched an eyebrow as I looked at you. Naturally, that wasn’t what the pastor was preaching about, but one short sentence from it worked for me. That sentence was:


Life is not “have to” but “get to”.


Now, I’ve heard other writers express this idea in a slightly different way and a very different context, but this sentence did it for me. You see, I kept looking at the revisions as a “have to,” i.e., I have to get those revisions done. A chore. With a deadline. Something I’d rather do anything else than.

But when I changed the task to I get to do revisions on my novel, it suddenly became something positive. I realized how lucky I am to be able to do the thing I always dreamed of doing. I am a novelist and I’m soon going to publish another book!

Almost all the obstacles to being successful are mental. I know that. But often it’s hard to come up with the exact way to change your attitude in order to overcome them. Fortunately, this week someone else did that part for me.

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February 11, 2022 - Revisions

Friday, February 11, 2022

Today was one of those days where it seemed like I was doing a lot, but at the end of the day (which I think is now), I didn’t accomplish very much.

First on my list was getting to those revisions, but since it had been a while—meaning more than two days—since I last worked on them, I had to start from the beginning again. And it was slow going during both sessions I put in today. I learned a lot on my research trip, but that meant there were sections that couldn’t possibly work the way I initially wrote them. So I made changes. And then I got further into the story and realized maybe they should work the first way. Where’s a ranch hand when you need one?

On the ranch, of course, but I’m in my apartment and neither of my cats has a clue as to what the answer should be, although Spenser keeps talking to me.

In between my revision sessions, I caught up on laundry. Yeah, the mundane takes a lot of time. And I dealt with some reader correspondence, and watched a short class video, and did some internet research that I put off when I was writing the story to begin with.

I’m hoping to have a better day tomorrow. And that’s it for tonight.

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February 9, 2022 - Time to Breathe

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

I think I need to take a few deep breaths. You may have noticed (or not) that I haven’t posted in a while. That’s because I took a combination vacation and research trip last week without my computer and with almost no internet service and now I’m trying to catch up on everything. I’d tell you more about that, but I’m planning to do a complete write-up for my newsletter next week. If you don’t already subscribe, I’d recommend going to my website (https://www.elisemstone.com/) to sign up for it now.

Believe it or not, I had a few other things that became a priority when I got home. For instance, the Tucson Festival of Books takes place on March 12th and 13th, and I had to check my paperback inventory and order books from Amazon if I wanted them to arrive in time. And, yes, it takes that long to get author copies. Those don’t get the priority that a customer ordering a single book does.

There was an online class I’d signed up for that started last week. Remember that no internet? So my first day home I had to watch all the videos and do the assignments in one day in order to hand them in on time.

There were bills due. And it’s tax time, so I have to start that soon. The cupboard was bare (on purpose so things wouldn’t spoil while I was away), which made a trip to the grocery store mandatory. And I had to pick up Spenser and Agatha from where they had spent the week. Of course, they insisted on some lap time to make up for being abandoned.

Also high on my priority list are revisions to Homicide on the Range. I really tried to do some of this on my iPad last week, but I’m too used to working off a printed copy and making notes in red pen. Which meant actually printing out the manuscript, a task I’d been dreading because the drum in my laser printer needed replacement, a task that terrifies me because I do it so infrequently, it’s always a new challenge. As it turned out, after procrastinating all afternoon and evening yesterday, it went very smoothly this morning, so I now have a stack of pages to work on this afternoon.

There’s more, but I don’t want to bore you any more than I already have. Besides, I should have lunch, exercise, and get back to work.

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January 28, 2022 - End of Month Wrap-up

Friday, January 28, 2022

It’s hard to believe January is at its end already. I’d hoped to accomplish more writing this month than I did, but I’m optimistic for what lies ahead.

This week, I updated my map of the town of Shipwreck Point. I’d let that slide since deciding to recreate the complete map in PhotoshopElements rather than continuing in Gimp. Although I still have some unnamed streets, the current version is more complete than any prior versions I made, and so it should be a good reference going forward.

My muse has managed to flesh out the cast of The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle, meaning I’ve got many more suspects than I had a week ago, which should make the mystery more interesting. If I have new suspects, it means they each have a motive as well, something that’s not always easy to come up with. Because then I have to backtrack and look at my victim and ask what about him would make this person want to kill him? This is how characters get back stories.

Suppose suspect A’s reason for wanting to kill the victim is that he seduced A’s wife. Hello? A has a wife? Okay, why would she cheat on him? Is it her or is it something about him? And why would the victim decide to have an affair with the wife? What does that say about his character? His marital situation? It’s amazing what things characters will tell you if you start asking them questions.

Anyway, I’ve got a whole bunch of new information that’s stewing around in my brain, which means there are plenty of scenes to write in this novel. I wonder what happens next?

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January 20, 2022 - I'm Back!

Thursday, January 20, 2022

Well, that was unexpected!

Following my last post almost two weeks ago, I developed severe fatigue. And then my nose started running. I hardly ever get sick, and so it took me a few days to admit that, yes, I’d come down with something. Of course, in the time of COVID, it’s the first thing you think of and visions of trips to the emergency room start flashing through your head. Or my head, in this case.

Fortunately, I’d ordered a test kit prior to Christmas, just in case I needed to know whether I was sick or not before I joined in the festivities. But I’d not used it, since I felt fine through the holidays. I decided it was time to try it out. It came back negative, and so, for the first time in years, I had a cold. I’d forgotten how rotten one can make you feel.

It’s been very hard to accomplish anything during this time which, right on schedule, lasted almost two weeks. (Long ago I heard that a cold lasts ten days to two weeks no matter what you do, meaning nothing’s going to magically cure you of one except time.) While I started feeling better on Monday, today is the first day I’ve felt completely normal.

Needless to say, my writing has suffered. I struggled to get a few hundred words written each day, which means The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle is significantly behind schedule. But I wrote over 1,000 words today and I’m still awake rather than needing to lie down and take a nap, so I’m confident I’ll be making better progress from now on.

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January 7, 2022 Writing Diary

Friday, January 07, 2022

Writing has been difficult this week. Although I did what I thought was adequate reading before starting this book, I find myself stopping after every other sentence to research something. Some of this is the result of taking a writing course on Depth.

Depth in writing is making the reader experience what the characters would. It includes not only all five senses, but also their opinions about the setting or an object or another character. It’s also the emotions a fragrance might arouse due to a memory it evokes.

Depth is important because, as Dean Wesley Smith says in the course, it engages the reader. It grabs them and doesn’t let go. They keep reading because of depth.

And so I’m all too aware of when I’m writing “fake details,” as Smith refers to them. A room that is devoid of furniture or wall covering or carpet or tile. A conversation that takes place there is words in a white box. I’m slowing down to think about what my character would see, hear, smell, taste, and feel as they have this conversation in this particular place.

This is very different from my NaNo novel, and one of the reasons I retook the course. In the novel I wrote last November, many scenes are purely conversation, like a play script. I know that during the revision, I’ll have to add in all that depth to make the novel enjoyable. And, after going through that one too many times, I decided to do it at the front rather than the back. I don’t like it when revision takes twice as long as writing the first draft.

I’ve had my decision reinforced by reading a novel I picked up from the library this week, titled Once Upon a Wardrobe, by Patti Callahan. As I’m reading it, I’m noticing all the depth in this book, all the things Dean points out in the Writing with Depth class. And I’m having a hard time putting it down to do something else. It’s kind of ironic. I was wondering how I was going to read this book (and another one that came in at the same time) in the three short weeks before it has to be returned. I’m in the middle of at least two other books that I’d like to finish. But now that I’ve started Once Upon a Wardrobe, the question is will I finish it over the weekend? Because it’s just that good.

And so I have to believe that taking the time to write my book with depth to begin with is the right way to go. At least for now. I’m hoping that like most of my books, once I’m further into it, I won’t need to stop so often to look things up because I’ll be totally immersed in the story, the characters, and their world. I just have to keep plugging away to get to that point.

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January 3, 2022

Monday, January 03, 2022

 Today was my first official working day during 2022. I did some writing last week, but my heart wasn’t really in it. Today felt like the start of the new year.

Not only did I write almost 1800 words on The Case of the Pirate’s Puzzle, I also composed a newsletter and a social media post and scheduled them to go out tomorrow. That was one of the new items on my marketing list, to become more consistent with social media. I’m starting off with Facebook because I’m on that every day, but I’d like to add Goodreads to that, and then, possibly, Instagram or TikTok.

I’m not really fond of the idea of using an entity that is largely controlled by the Chinese, so I’m not sure I’ll take the plunge into TikTok. But so many authors are having success with it, it seems like I should try it.

I’m also not eager to use Instagram. I’ve only recently gained some competence with graphics and I still don’t consider myself at all talented in that area. My mind works in words and sometimes sounds and smells, but pictures? Not so much.

At least I have some time before I’ll have to decide on those last two. I’m trying to be sensible about doing new things in the new year. I’m going to add sites slowly rather than plunging in all at once. If I manage with my first objectives, I’ll evaluate what else I’ll try in April.

Meanwhile, I’m going to try to keep up this writing diary at least three times a week.

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