Monday, May 28, 2018

A Different Kind of Memorial Day Story

First, a posthumous thank you to those military people who are no longer with us.

A few years ago my aunt and I were talking and she asked if she’d ever told me the story about how she and my uncle met. No, I hadn’t heard the story, but I wanted to.

Going back to the forties, my grandmother ran a USO in Monterey Park, California. One day my then sixteen-year-old aunt wanted to go to the beach with her friends, but she had to ask her mother’s permission. One of her friends drove her to the USO where her mother was working.

She asked for permission and her mother told her that no, she could not go with her friends. She made an odd request of her daughter. She asked that she go into the other room and listen to a young man who was playing the piano. Grudgingly, she dragged herself to the room. (I can see a sixteen-year-old dragging her feet because she wanted to go to the beach.)

There sat a young soldier, playing boogie woogie with flare. Interestingly, he couldn’t read a note, and yet he was pounding those keys with ease. Not knowing that he couldn't read music, my aunt walked over and started turning the pages to music that sat on the piano. He kept his eyes on her hands while she flipped pages.

My aunt watched him. He finally looked up into her big blue eyes. It was, as they say, love at first sight. Some things are just meant to be, and this was one of those times.

My aunt glanced toward the doorway and there stood her mother, grinning from ear to ear. My grandmother wasn’t the type of woman who enjoyed matchmaking, but there was something about this young man that caught her attention. He was twenty and my aunt was sixteen, which could have been a deal-breaker for my grandmother, but she was fine with it.

My Aunt Elizabeth and Uncle Scotty were married in 1944 and had 59 wonderful years together before we lost him. They had two children, and I adore the entire family.

We can always use a little romance in our lives, right? I hope you’ve all found your Elizabeth or your Scotty.

Remember all of those who’ve gone before us. They had a hand in making us who we are.

Until next time, go listen to some boogie woogie. You’ll find that you can’t sit quietly and simply listen. Here’s a sample for both listening and watching:

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Prudy's Back! - A Sandi Webster Mystery involves both a woman who became a P.I. when her husband was killed in WWII and a crime from that same time period. Can Sandi solve it after all these years?

Monday, May 21, 2018

It's in the Blood

Although I write mysteries, “it’s in the blood” doesn’t refer to finding a dead body. It’s a reference to writing.

You may have noticed that from time to time I say, “I was talking to someone the other day, and…” Well, I talk to a lot of people. What can I say? I love chatting, especially about writing and books. I’ve even seen my daughter’s eyes glaze over when I start talking about writing and/or books.

So, the other day I talked to someone who’d just completed her first book. I asked her if she had a second book in mind. She said no, that one book was her limit. A few days later she said that, well, maybe there was another book or two in her. That’s when I realized that writing was in her blood.
 Me and Chocolate
Writing is addictive for a lot of authors. This is a good thing because what would we readers have to read if some of these prolific writers stopped working? I have an addiction to chocolate; I can’t stop at just one piece of candy. I now realize that the same holds true for writing. I couldn’t stop at just one book – or two or three. I’m now working on #19.

Here’s the deal: You finish your book (which includes editing and proofreading), you write a killer query letter, and you begin to look for a publisher (or you decide to self-publish). You sit and twiddle your thumbs while waiting for a response if you decided to go the way of a traditional publisher, and you start thinking, “Okay, this is boring. What do I do now? Hmm. I sure would like to write another story. I still have more things I’d like to say, and by the way, it was fulfilling and fun when I worked on the last story. But what should I write about? Do I want to write a lot of books or just one more? Or should those books I’m going to write equal a series? Would people want to read about the same characters over and over and over again? Hmm.”

Now you begin to realize that writing is in your blood. You can’t sit for too long without working on something, even if the work consists of just coming up with an idea. When you least expect it, a storyline comes to mind. No matter where the idea came from, you know you’ve got to run with it. You’re hooked on writing. You might even write a bestseller. It’s worth a shot, and in the meantime you might actually entertain some readers. Who knew? This writing stuff has suddenly become a career– an addiction or maybe an obsession. It’s in the blood.

There will be those scoffers who comment that they’re happy that you “have a little hobby to keep you busy now.” If they only knew how much work you put into your novel, they’d probably slap themselves silly. No, you can’t do that for them. No smackin’.

So go write your story and don’t feel guilty that you have this grand obsession. This is a good obsession, as long as you don’t forget that you have a family, and some other obligations – not that a family is an obligation. Listen to me, sticking my size six foot into my size five mouth. Not a pretty picture. But you get the point. Enjoy what you do and keep those stories coming. Me? I’ll be looking for your latest book. I love to be entertained. Keep up the good work.

Until next time, keep writing, and if you’re not a writer, keep reading. Readers make the literary world go round.

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Speaking of Book #18… Well, I was thinking of Book #18, you might want to give Gin Mill Grill – A Sandi Webster Mystery a try. Think Prohibition, speakeasies and gin mills, and trying to solve a crime today that happened back in the day.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Dorothy Bodoin, Guest Author

This week my friend Dorothy Bodoin, mystery author, is visiting and she discusses how her series came about. I’d love to visit her location, Foxglove Corners. It’s an amazing place, and so are the books. Please welcome Dorothy.

I didn’t set out to write a series.  Darkness at Foxglove Corners was intended to be a stand-alone like my first book, Treasure at Trail’s End.  When I was finished however, I missed my characters. 
While researching the setting for Darkness at Foxglove Corners, I’d learned that the sport of fox hunting was a major activity in Metamora, the real place in which all of books in the series are set.  There was even a hunt club.  I could easily see Jennet tangling with the members as an amateur animal activist—and Cry for the Fox was born.  The rest (as they say) is history.
As I added to my series, I developed a set of guidelines for myself.  First, it’s crucial to choose a setting that sparks your imagination.  I live in Royal Oak, Michigan, a city which is quite interesting, having changed dramatically since my family bought their house after the end of World War II.  They wouldn’t recognize the downtown with its restaurants and multi-story buildings today. 
I’ve always had an affinity for the country, however, and when my brother built a house in Lapeer, Michigan, I fell in love with the location.  The fictitious Foxglove Corners is more vivid in my mind than the actual place.  Details help the reader visualize the scenes and feel as if they are there.  They certainly add color.
I’ve read this advice before: Your characters should grow and change.  Readers have told me that Jennet has changed over the course of the twenty-six books in the series.  Her marriage to Deputy Sheriff Crane Ferguson has brought her happiness and taken the edge off her insecurities.  She struggles to maintain control in her high school English classes and has occasional success.  Like her creator, she loves collies and was always saving them from unfortunate situations.  Eventually I had her join a rescue league.
If a character catches my imagination, he or she returns in future books.  When I introduced Lucy Hazen in the first book, I had in mind an unpleasant, witch-like woman.  She accused Jennet of letting her collie destroy her property.  The guilty party was another dog.  Jennet didn’t like Lucy, but Crane did.  I brought Lucy back in Cry for the Fox in which she and Jennet bonded over cruelty to animals.  Eventually Lucy and Jennet became close friends. 
When Brent appeared, also in Cry for the Fox, I pictured an unscrupulous character whose desire to attract a beautiful animal activist led him to proclaim that he, too, was an advocate for the Cause, whereas in truth he was a fox hunter.  Brent is now one of my most popular characters and a good friend to both Jennet and her husband, Crane.
I always anchor my books to a season to give the illusion of time passing, but I avoid dates.  For the same reason, I avoid referring to world events.  There’s no quicker way to date a book than to mention a year or refer to a real life disaster or world happening.
On the other hand, I like to let the reader know that my characters are living in the same world as they are.  When Jennet and Crane were courting, they watched a movie on a VCR.  Now they watch movies on a DVD player and have a flat-screen television set.  Jennet’s life as an amateur detective is much easier now that she has an iPhone.
            Last, it’s important to include what you love in your series.  For me it’s old books in a series, antiques, collies (of course), Gothic novels, music, poetry, and supernatural manifestations.  Jennet has discovered that Foxglove Corners can be a hotbed of psychic activity.
 The Deadly Fields of Autumn (The Foxglove Corners Series Book 25)

These, then, are the rules I follow automatically.  In my May release from Wings ePress, The Deadly Fields of Autumn, the season is fall.  Jennet now has seven collies, her first, Halley, and six rescues.  Brent and Lucy play prominent parts.  Jennet has become more adept at solving mysteries, more intuitive, more able to extricate herself from perilous situations.  The Deadly Fields of Autumn is available at or your favorite retailer.
 There’s a rule I wish I’d followed—to keep track of what’s going on in characters’ lives: details such as where they live, their pets, and any change in their status.  As it is, when I don’t remember a certain fact, I have to find the relevant book and reread that passage.  When your series starts to grow, this record is essential.  I’m going to start keeping track of these details today.  Better late than never. 

Dorothy Bodoin's website:


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Monday, May 7, 2018

Pantser vs. Outliner

I’m what’s called a Pantser as far as writers go. I think of an idea for a story and I run with it instead of doing an outline. It seems like once I come up with an idea, each scene leads to another idea and scene. I know, in general, where the story is headed, but I often change direction midstream. If I wrote an outline, I’d end up having to rewrite it and rewrite it until I found myself out of story writing time.

It works for me, although others have a different strategy – they outline and do things the right way.

Gin Mill Grill was inspired by a newspaper story from a vintage newspaper. I started with a basic premise and built on it, keeping two word notes so I wouldn’t forget little details later in the story. I guess I’m about as unorganized as you can get. Again, it works for me.

Someone once suggested using a board and writing each idea on a small stickie note and placing it on the board chronologically. I tried that and ended up with so many stickies that I couldn’t keep track of anything. Try it. Maybe it will work for you.

Someone else said they use an oversized calendar and write brief notes on each day. I tried that, too, and it didn’t work for me because of changing directions so often. Again, it might work for you.

I’ve written two books where life got in the way and I had to set the manuscript aside for a long while. Because I didn’t have an outline to refer to, I had to read the entire story to figure out where I was. An outline might have been easier, but in these cases I was able to pick up on some flaws before I started writing again. It worked to my benefit and saved me time later in the process.

Sometimes as I write, something insinuates itself into the story that I hadn’t expected. I can surprise myself at times and then I wonder where the idea came from. Every story idea is not cut in stone, at least for me. One simple idea leads to something more involved.

I’ve even been known to think of a title and then write a story to fit that title. One of my favorites is the last book, Gin Mill Grill - A Sandi Webster Mystery. The story idea and the title seemed to come simultaneously. A cold case from the 1930s? How appropriate to include a speakeasy.

Well, those are a few thoughts for today. If you’re a writer, what’s your process? If you’re a reader, what first grabs you and encourages you to read a book? Title? Book cover? Word-of-mouth? As a reader, word-of-mouth is high on my list of enticements. If I’m shopping with nothing in particular in mind, the title usually catches my attention. The cover would be next, and then comes the back cover blurb.

Curious minds (and some authors) want to know what floats your boat.

Until next time, share the title and author’s name of a book you've recently read with friends. Word-of-mouth works.

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