Sunday, December 27, 2009

One More Reason to Write

I write because I have to:  that's my driving motiviation.

Since being published in newspaper and magazine a number of years ago, I've received the occasional fan mail and comments from readers who like my work.  Those kind words have been know to buoy my spirits for a day or two.  (Okay, or ten!)

But there's nothing like having a reader of one of my novels rave about it.  I was fortunate enough to receive a 5-star review from a fan on Amazon today.  Not only did she love my book, but she's looking forward to reading more of my stuff.

How's that for motivation?

What motiviates you to write?  And how do you feel about those raving fans?

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It Pays to Have Smart Kids

Not that I actually had anything to do with the quality of my kids' brain cells--even I know genetics isn't something we can control.  I do choose, however, to believe that my kids inherited their good looks from my ex-husband and their brains from me...

Anyway, getting back on track, I'd like to share with you the brilliance of my youngest daughter.  She is not yet thirty and the level of her intelligence and professional savvy boggles my mind.  She is a recruiter...of salespeople.  And not just any kind of salespeople, either.  She recruits people who sell financial services.  Talk about being behind the eight-ball these days!  I guess she hasn't heard the news that the financial services industry is facing challenges and consunmers aren't investing like they used to:  she's recruiting like crazy.

A couple of years ago, she informed me about a number of online services she'd joined to help her with her job.  In sales, in case you didn't know, the really important thing is to broadcast your name all over the place.  The single most important aspect about making important contacts when you're in sales is the number of people who know who you are and what you do.  (It's not, as many people believe, the number of people YOU know, although there is some correlation.)

More to please her than because I believed posting professional information about myself online would actually benefit me financially, I joined Linked In.  This is where I tie my story in to the blog post title:  IT PAYS TO HAVE SMART KIDS.

I received an e-mail from a fellow in California three weeks ago who was looking for a person with precisely my professional qualifications--which is odd, since I pursue three different professional endeavors in two separate industries.

To cut to the chase, I secured a lucrative contract doing something I love:  writing.  Yes, it's about insurance but, hey, I know that subject really well.  And, did I mention, I'm being paid to write?

If you have smart kids, listen to them.  It pays. 


Sunday, December 6, 2009

Doubts and Fears

Let one person offer constructive criticism of my writing and I'm off and running, doubting my ability and fearing I made a fool of myself.

That's what prompted my stinky plotting skills post.  Sound familiar?  I thought so. Since I'm not the type of person to dig a hole for myself and jump in after I've discovered a new weakness or, worse, embarrassed myself, I launched my campaign. 

If my plotting skills are stinky--IF being the operative word--then all I need to do is strengthen them, right?  And surely ALL my plotting skills can't be stinky, right?  [This is my ego talking. I've learned that the best time to listen to it is when fear is nipping at my heels.]

My campaign lasted one evening and all of the next day:  thumbing through reams of notes I've taken on plotting durng the past 20 years--and exhaustive online research.  What I came up with is that I had all the knowledge I needed, I just hadn't put it together in a way that worked efficiently for me.

Several published authors included terrific information on their websites and blogs.  Their insights touched me in a number of ways, pointing out information I already knew intellectually, but shining perspective in a way that permitted me actually GET it.  I compiled an aggregate of information and created for myself a skeleton, an empty outline telling what I need to put where--and when.

The most important message I took with me, however, reinforced one of my personal writing beliefs.  Not every writer embraces it but, if you do, don't ever let it go:  Plot grows from character. Every single event that occurs in your book or short story MUST stem from the character and his/her emotions, decisions, actions, and conflicts.  The two most important questions to ask yourself when you're plotting are:  What if? and What next?

Happy Plotting!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Can You Help Me Improve My Stinky Plotting Skills?

I'm in a poor-me mood. 

My plotting skills stink.  I can always come up with a really good idea for a novel.  Then I come up with a couple of sub-plots to weave throughout the story--they're usually threads based on character or emotion.

What I need is help figuring out how to create other plot aspects that branch out from the main plot.  Oh, and that enhance the main plot, that are interesting, and that aren't stupid.

That about covers it. 

Except for my disclaimer that I've never had problems plotting blog articles, magazine articles, my newspaper column, or insurance texts.  Just so you know...

Got any advice?

Sunday, November 29, 2009

She Called me an Award Winning Writer!

My writing buddy, Drue Allen, just interviewed me on her blog about how it feels to have Second Time Around nominated for a 2010 EPIC Award.  So I told her!  Here's the link to the interview:

I must say, I truly appreciate her adjective, "award winning."  Let's just hope she's right!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Why do You Write?

The hoopla with Harlequin's new self-publishing venture got me thinking about two really important subjects.
  1. Writing is a creative effort; publishing is a business effort. 
  2. My desire to write is totally independent of my desire to be published.
I'm one of those people who began writing when I was a kid:  I recall creating a story in grade school about a frog named Throckmorton.  Puberty contributed greatly to the death of a number of trees and reams of maudlin poetry.  I completed my first romantic suspense novel in the late eighties:  St. Martin's Press loved it but said it was too formulaic.  The editor suggested I send it to Silhouette.  Silhouette loved it and said it was too mainstream.  Sigh.  It's sitting in a box with my next four novels.

When divorce, remarriage, and several other signifiant life events seriously curtailed my fiction writing, I spent years writing in trade.  No, insurance magazine articles are not my favorite things to write--neither is a business column in a newspaper.  Since I'm one of those people who writes because I have to write, that's what I did.  When life once again permitted me the time and freedom to pursue writing fiction, I did so with a vengeance:  hence the completion of Second Time Around.

Publication, now, that is an altogether different thing.  It involves ego.  It involves validation.  It involves knowledge of the publishing indistry.  It also involves a great deal of business savvy--either one's own or the kind one can hire in the form of an agent.  Preferably both.  Since I have a healthy ego, a competitive nature, and a desire for approval, seeking publication has always been the next step after I complete an article, short story, or novel.  It will always be the next step.

I may never publish another novel.  If that becomes an unfortunate reality, it will not stop me from writing.  Heck, I kept at it for twenty years, I can do it another twenty!

Writing is a pursuit unto itself.  Which is why I do it.

Publishing is a business.  It's a choice.

I believe that many writers who've written for years without achieving publishing success do not fall into the category of being lousy writers.  My opinion is shared by a  prominant published writer (I'm pretty sure it's Lawrence Block, but don't quote me here) who said in his writing-advice book that he believes more mediocre writers with excellent business marketing skills get published than do excellent writers with mediocre business marketing skills.

Choosing the route of self-publishing because you've been rejected numerous times is NOT the way to go.  If you can't get the attention of a NY agent or publisher, try a small press before you pay someone to publish your book.  If you've been writing for years and have never joined a professional writer's organization, I've got a hint for you:  JOIN ONE OR THREE!!!  The members and resources of professional writer's organizations provided me with more information and insight into the publishing industry, both the creative and business ends of it, than the sum of all other resources combined.

You might also want to seriously consider why you write.  If it's because you have to, pursuing the goal of publication should be the icing on the cake,

Yeah, being published is sweet.  No doubt about that.  But if you're like me, the meat and potatoes of writing keep my belly full, not the icing on the cake.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Is it Better to Write with Pen and Paper?

At the moment, I'm thinking the answer to this question is a resounding, "YES!"

I've been writing for so many years, I remember the world before computers and word processors.  I preferred writing on lined filler paper because typewriters sucked.  (Or was it my typing skills?)  I'd buy those thick 1-2" expandable folders and dedicate two to each book:  one for the actual chapters and one for the notes.  I should also have bought stock in the Bic company--I loved those pens.  Blue, never black.

Anyway, I pretty much follow the same procedure on the computer.  Except for when it crashes on me or shuts down for no apparent reason.  Fortunately, I back up faithfully.  Still, I'm thinking of going back to doing my rough draft by hand. 

Twice this weekend, TWICE, the damn laptop shut down in the middle of my WIP.  The document recovery software worked both times, thank God.  But you know what they say about the third time being the charm.  (I know, that's a cliche, and I should avoid them at all costs.  But I was married to a guy named Murphy for 16 years, so I know whereof I speak.)

I carry notebooks with me all the time:  in my DayTimer, in my briefcase, in my car, in my purse.  I'm constantly jotting notes down on paper.  Should I just bury the damn laptop?  Write by longhand and then transcribe it onto a PC when I'm through?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Whats Your Take on Harlequin's New "Self-Publishing" Deal?

There is LOTS of talk about Harlequin venturing into self-publishing; here are a few links to what people are saying:
What do YOU have to say?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Second Time Around FINALS in EPIC's 2010 eBook Competition!

I received word this morning that, Second Time Around, my debut mystery, is a finalist in the Mystery/Suspense Fiction category of EPIC's 2010 eBook Competition.

EPIC (Electronically Published Internet Connection) is a professional organization of published and contracted eBook and print writers.  Their annual awards, formerly called the EPPIEs, "showcase the best and brightest in today's electronic published writing and cover art."  The winners of the EPIC awards will be announced at their annual conference, which is being held March 4-7, 2010 at the Sheraton New Orleans, in New Orleans, Louisiana.

I share this honor with my editors, Herb Holeman and Judy Goldman, and all the people at ePress Online who helped bring STA to both eBook and print format.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Check Out Forever Friends

Check out my new blog, Forever Friends, and be sure to submit your item for posting!

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Do You Need to Narrow Your Focus?

I do. In fact, I've spent the past several months figuring out precisely how to do it. This is what I've come up with, and it's working!

The first step is realizing you've spread yourself too thin. Here are some clues: You write anything anyone asks you to--a magazine article, a newspaper column, or a press release for a non-profit--even when you'd rather be working on your novel. You accept contract jobs that involve travel because of the enormous potential for the growth of your business, mistakenly convincing yourself you'll get tons of writing accomplished during the flights or--God, how naive (aka stupid?)--during the airport layovers. You fiddle around on Facebook, surf the net for obscure facts of interest that don't pertain to anything you're working on at the moment, read your 47 favorite blogs, get caught up in an old movie you've seen six dozen times before... You volunteer at the PTA, Boy Scouts, Big Brothers Big Sisters, or the local animal shelter. You offer the use of your office conference room for committee meetings of the non-profit whose board you sit on--which means you just stole two hours of personal time from yourself. You getting the picture yet?

The second step is prioritizing. As in having this dialogue with yourself: I write because I have to. Writing consumes me. I have to put my writing before everything else that consumes me LESS than my writing--otherwise, I'm miserable. Only one person bears the responsibility for my lack of writing time or success--it isn't fair to blame other people for infringing, especially not when I alternately welcome and invite interruption. For me, the priority list goes like this:
  • Family and loved ones (including my puppies and kitty)
  • The [necessary aspects of my] career
  • Me
  • My writing

Housework no longer appears on the list. Neither do grocery shopping, Christmas cards, dusting (this is not housework, it's a form of torture), or anything else I really don't want to do. You see, the category of "Me" is both broad and vague. I get to decide what fits into it. I do admit that not everyone is pleased with my seemingly arbitrary categorization of what fits under "Me." Unfortunately [for them], I was a writer before I met them and they accepted the "side effects" of my writerly personality. I was not always this callous and selfish; becoming published created the monster. There's something about realizing my dream that made me want to repeat the performance--it helps me narrow my focus.

The third, and final, step is implementation. When I received a request for contract job in Boise, Idaho, I turned it down. I love teaching there--the people are terrific. But because of the fact that you can't get there from here (not directly, anyway), the trip will involve two days of travel for the one day of paid teaching. Since I've learned [the hard way] that I don't get ANY writing done on planes or in airports, not only am I losing time from my day job, I'm losing precious writing time.

One final bit of advice: E-mails, Facebook, blogs, and reading books (not necessarily in that order) are pursuits that can be as addictive as writing. I've learned to schedule these activities into my schedule. I permit myself either a set amount of time, or only certain times of the day, for their enjoyment. I own two businesses so, as my own boss, I can do whatever I want whenever I want. However, in order to take care of the number 2, 3, and 4 items on my Priority List, I do not allow myself to visit Facebook at work, nor do I check my personal or writing e-mails at the office. Take a guess at what's more enjoyable: insurance or Facebook? Insurance or e-mails from my friends/family? What, you're wondering, does that have to do with writing?

Well, you see, it goes like this: the longer I spend at the office, the less time I have at home for writing. If I kill half an hour fiddling around on Facebook or with my non-business e-mail, I'm responsible and professional enough to make up that time at the office. So who loses the half hour? Me? Nope--I'm still going to play with the dogs and cat, eat my dinner, and do the things at home that I want to do. It's my writing that suffers.

If my writing suffers, guess who else suffers? You've got it--everyone!

Seriously, figure out your priorities and be sure NOT to leave yourself off the list. Don't martyr yourself by eliminating the things you like to do (i.e. blogging, IMing, FB)--that's cruel and unusual punishment--make a date with yourself to do them. If other people are important enough to fit/schedule into your day, so are you. And so is your writing.

What are some of the ways you've found to narrow your focus? I'd love to hear them and I'm sure everyone else will too.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

READERS & WRITERS: What's Your Take on Series Novels Versus Standalones?

When I wrote Second Time Around, I didn't actually plan for it to be the first in a series. Sure, I realized some readers like series books, but I didn't realize how many of them did.

Within a month of publication, a great number of people who'd read STA asked me when the next book in the series would come out. I told them I was working on it (titled Two-Timed) but was also working on another mystery. You'd have thought I'd given away my firstborn to aliens.

No, no, no! was the resounding response (at least from those who liked the book), you need to continue the story of Jack and Timmie. Well, to tell you the truth, I tend to want to move on once I've finished a book. But readers don't want to hear that. And, as a writer with an ego and head for business, I have to rethink my position. If readers really like my characters and want to read more, who am I to deprive them?

Seriously, what's your preference when it comes to reading series books versus standalones--and why? I'm interested in the perspectives of both readers and writers. If you'd prefer not to leave a comment here, feel free to e-mail me at


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Reviews...and How They Help My Writing

I review books on my Author Exchange Blog and, aside from being treated to some excellent stories, the process has helped my writing.

I have always read books by both men and women. In fact, my favorite writer of all time is the late Ed McBain/Evan Hunter. I must admit, however, that most of the books sitting on my bookshelves were written by women. Where am I going with this? In this direction: men and women write differently while, at the same time, writing precisely the same. Clear as mud, eh?

The first handful of books I reviewed were written by men. In two of them, the gender of the protagonist became immediately clear. Not because of their names but because their actions, vocabulary, and insights were indisputably male. I loved re-reading sections involving their inner thought processes because they highlighted excellent examples of superior characterization. Men and women often think and behave differently. I recall one particular male character who was emotionally involved with a woman in the story. While he cared deeply for her and angsted over their relationship (something we women do), he did so in a purely male fashion. I've since re-read a number of scenes and chapters of those books to research the way a male mind works. I could, of course, simply ask my husband. But I suspect it's better all the way around not to delve too deeply into his mind...

I also noticed that these prolific, award-winning, and often bestseller list-authors all excel in a particular area: plotting, characterization, dialogue, or wringing emotion from the reader. Most also had a subtle area of weakness. (A couple did not!) This realization made me look at my writing from an objective standpoint. I am now able to capitalize on my strengths, while simultaneously keeping a lid on my weaknesses.

The most important benefit I've received from these book reviews involves the concept of approval. One of the authors--famous, prolific, and a bestseller--was unable to wring a drop of emotion from me during my read of his book other than irritation. He is educated, intelligent, a terrific plotter, and tends toward philosophical soliloquies and, in my opinion, pomposity. A bazillion people love him and his books or they wouldn't have hit the bestseller list. Which just goes to show that no matter how famous you are, or how excellent a writer you are, someone is always going to think you stink. (I didn't think he stinks, but you get my point, right?)

Stepping outside the parameters of what you normally read, and treating yourself to books by unknown (to you) authors, serves two purposes. 1) You treat yourself to enjoyment you'd never have known otherwise, and 2) You gain insight to methods of improving your own writing.

To visit my book reviews, visit the Author Exchange Blog and slide down the right sidebar until you find the list.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Lou Allin: Marketing Tips for Writers

I'm a big proponent of marketing and write a column about it on

Lou Allin, a writer I'll be interviewing on my Author Exchange Blog in November, has some marketing ideas for writers that I think you'll enjoy - they're terrific.

Thanks for sharing, Lou!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Writing is Murder--Even When You're Not Writing Mysteries

I just finished writing a 346-page insurance licensing workbook, after developing and outlining the material. Boy, am I glad THAT project is over!

Here is my take on the pros and cons of writing 150,000 words of text versus fiction:
  1. Writing text requires more outlining and less plotting; with fiction it's the other way around. In a mystery novel I get to choose who lives and dies; in an insurance workbook, if I kill someone off, I have to worry about negligence, legal liability, and getting sued.
  2. Writing text requires a whole lot less imagination than writing fiction does. In fact, making things up when you're writing an insurance text is actually NOT a good thing. The readers want the facts; if I make something up, they'll flunk the exam--which is contrary to the purpose of writing the text in the first place. On the other hand, if I dream up a creative way of poisoning an ex-husband in my mystery novel, readers will gobble it up. (Yes, the pun was intended.)
  3. Writing text requires less rewrites--so long as your outline is good. I haven't figured out the rhyme or reason behind the number, and type, of rewrites in fiction...
  4. Writing text requires just as much line-editing and copy-editing as fiction, but it's WAY more tedious. I don't mind reading the same murder or sex scene 2 or 10 times. But reading the same paragraph about workers' compensation insurance law 2 or 10 times? Ouch!
  5. Writing text does not elicit the same level of emotion that writing a mystery or romance novel does. I've never heard someone gush, Ooh! I just LOVED that part where you defined the theory of indemnity! But when someone confided, I LOVED that Jack Kendall--he's a hottie, my heart went pitty-pat.

Yes, I'll probably make more money from my 346-page insurance workbook than I will from my first mystery novel. And yes, a [hopefully] large number of people will advance their insurance careers because of the non-fiction text and it's unlikely that reading my mystery novel will provide any more actual benefit than a couple hours' of escape and enjoyment. But nothing will ever compare to the Jack Kendall-hottie comments I received from the members of the Red Hat Reader's Book Club or the feeling of seeing actual "fans" in the bookstore at my very first book signing/reading.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

"I Rescued a Human Today"

Reprinted from the July 2009 issue of Vanity Fur, Animeals' newsletter, Volume 3 Issue 3:

Her eyes met mine as she walked down the corridor peering apprehensively into the kennels. I felt her need instantly and knew I had to help her. I wagged my tail, not too exuberantly, so she wouldn't be afraid. As she stopped at my kennel, I blocked her view from the little accident I had in the back of the cage. I didn't want her to know that I hadn't been walked today. Sometimes the shelter keepers get too busy and I didn't want her to think poorly of them.

As she read my kennel card, I hoped she wouldn't feel sad about my past. I only have the future to look forward to and want to make a difference in someone's life. She got down on her knees and made little kissy sounds at me. I shoved my shoulder and the side of my head up against the bars to comfort her. Gentle fingertips caressed my neck; she was desperate for companionship. A tear fell down her cheek and I raised my paw to assure her that all would be well.

Soon, my kennel door opened and her smile was so bright that I instantly jumped into her arms. I would promise to keep her safe. I would promise to be always by her side. I would promise to do everything I could to see that radiant smile and sparkle in her eyes. I was so fortunate that she came down my corridor. So many more out there who haven't walked the corridors. So man more to be saved. At least I could save this one.

I rescued a human today.

Written by Janine Allen CPDT, Rescue Me Dog's professional dog trainer. Janine's passion is working with people and their dogs. She provides demonstrations for those who have adopted shelter dogs, lends email support to adopted dog owners that need information beyond our Training Support Pages, and aids shelter staff and volunteers in understanding dog behavior to increase their adoptability. Copyright 2009 Rescue Me Dog;

If you know a human who needs rescuing, send him/her to Animeals, 1700 Rankin St., Missoula. Telephone 406-721-4710. Website:

Sunday, September 27, 2009

How Writing Non-Fiction Helps me Write Mysteries

I spend as much--if not more--time writing non-fiction as I do my mystery novels. At present, I write a monthly newspaper column, an online marketing column, my insurance courses, and several blogs.

I've found that writing non-fiction has greatly improved my fiction. Why? Well, first of all, when you have an entire story to tell in 500 words or less, you learn the importance of words. When I first started writing fiction, my books were LONG! Every edit that involved cutting a sentence, a paragraph, or (God forbid) a scene, broke my heart. Usually, these edits were initiated by my critique partner. Now I do it myself.

Then there's the internal editor. I can turn it off. When writing non-fiction, I churn out the piece quickly, allowing my unconscious to do its thing. Then I flip the editor switch on. Lawrence Block gives just that advice in his Telling Lies for Fun and Profit: write the first draft straight through and do the editing when it's finished. That's one of the best pieces of writing advice I ever followed. Of course, it's a lot easier to do with a 500 or 1,000-word article or newspaper column. But once you get in the habit...

Another item I was able to transfer from writing non-fiction to fiction was my Voice. When writing a column or article (usually in first or second person), it's so very easy to allow myself to come through in my writing. Of course, maybe you don't like the me that comes through--but I do, and so do one or two other people. I love to write in first person and, I believe, am a stronger writer when doing so than when I write in third person. I have seen my third person POVs grow stronger in recent years, however.

Finally, my non-fiction projects force me to write every single day. Perhaps I'm not writing more than a page or two a day on my current mystery, but I am writing.

Which is what we writers do, isn't it?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Wasting Time

I'm one of those people who is hard-wired to do several things at once and to avoid anything that wastes my time. For example, I don't watch TV - I'm constitutionally unable to sit and just look at the TV screen. I don't visit the movie theater for the same reason. Well...that and the fact that people hate it when I talk during the movie.

I spent two days in Salt Lake City last week on business. One of the biggest time wasters in the world is air travel. You have to arrive at the airport 1-2 hours before your plane soars skyward to make sure you have enough time to check-in, check your luggage, and squirm through security. Even if you check-in online and only bring carryon luggage, you still need to get there early. wait.

I was sitting at Gate 5 forty minutes before my flight was scheduled to leave and I pulled out my laptop to work in my current book. Unfortunately, one of my fellow passengers decided to conduct business on his cell phone -- at the top of his voice, for twenty minutes. All 80 of us were treated to his conversations with three different clients and the details of their business situations. How much writing do you think I got done? BIG waste of time, sitting at Gate 5. Until I pulled out a book. (Not mine.)

Then, when I got on the plane and we'd reached the altitude where the flight attendants allowed us to use our laptops, I pulled mine out, planning on a good 90 minutes working on my current book. (The people who hired me to teach didn't send me direct to SLC, they decided to treat me to the scenie route via Seattle.) Unfortunately, the guy in the seat in front of me decided to take a nap and reclined his seat--practically into my lap. Which, you might think, is the perfect place for a laptop. But I find it much more comfortable to place my laptop on the seatback tray. I spent the same amount of time working on my book during the flight as I did at Gate 5. I did, however, get several chapters further along in my book. (No, not MY book - the book in my briefcase.)

My husband has been known to say that reading is a waste of time. Which figures, since he likes to waste his time watching the boob tube. And movies. Science fiction, shoot-em-up, testosterone-filled stupid movies.

I guess wasting time is different things to different people. Do you think these are time wasters?
  • Facebook
  • Watching TV
  • Reading
  • Watching sports (in-person or on TV)
  • Going for motorcycle rides
  • Having a beer (or several) at a bar/lounge

What do YOU think are times wasters?

Now that I have NOT wasted my time with this blog post, I'll get to work on my book. (Yes, MY book this time!)

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Clustering - What is it and How Does it Work?

I recently read a blog post by Bill Kirton on his blog and it got me thinking about the wonderful technique called Clustering. Bill shared the story about how he recently encouraged several women, none of whom were writers, to create some fictional characters and how they met with resounding success.

Free-association allows the unconscious, creative part of our brain the freedom to access possibilities our conscious mind can't always access. Gabriele Rico wrote a book titled Writing the Natural Way. I've lent it to several people, some of whom never returned it--necessitating the purchase of a replacement copy. (More than once!) One of the creative writing techniques she teaches is called Clustering.

This is how her website describes it: "A non-linear brainstorming process, clustering makes the Design mind’s interior, invisible associations visible on a page. Clustering becomes a self-organizing process as words and phrases are spilled onto the page around a center. The Sign mind begins to see pattern and meaning, and the writing flows naturally into a vignette."

This is how she, herself, describes it: "A cluster is like an expanding universe, and each word is a potential galaxy: each galaxy in turn may throw out its own universe."

Even if you have no problems dreaming up plots and characters, even if your prose flows smoothly and swiftly at will, you'll benefit from this book. She also talks about many other creative processes and has written several books. Check her out at

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pets and Characterization

I've always marvelled at the number of writers who have pets. And I'm not talking about an occasional dog or cat here. I'm talking PETS, in the plural.
I recently discovered a blog, hosted by a Golden Retriever named Amigo, that interview pets who own authors. It's called Pets and Their Authors, and it's a riot. If you're a pet-lover, check it out.

Like many authors, I usually have a pet or three in my books and it wasn't until recently that I ever gave the practice more than a cursory thought. After some consideration, however, my conclusion convinced me--yet again--that my unconscious mind is far more adept than my conscious one.

Here's the revelation: using pets in a story is a delivery device for characterization. Without saying Mr. Mudd is a nasty, rotten, person, all we have to do is show him kicking Ms. Heroine's miniature Schnauzer when she's not looking. Instead of saying Mr. Right is kind and considerate, all we have to do is show him talking man-to-man to the heroine's French poodle--when she isn't looking, of course. Or, we can have a heroine who is accused of being cold and heartless and she can even act a little...cranky. But when we show her sitting on her front steps each evening as the sun goes down, stroking the cat on her lap, everyone will know she is a warm and caring person.

Pets bring out the best--or worst in people. Using them and their relationships with humans as a way to characterize helps us show and not tell. It also allows us to use animals as secondary characters--which adds variety to our stories, and presents some unusual challenges. It's also fun!
Tyson, the Rottie lying down in the top picture, had a thing for flashlight beams. Whenever he saw one (or mistakenly saw one--like the sun reflecting onto the ceiling off a knife sitting on the kitchen table), he'd flip out and chase it all over the place. Dusty, aka Oreo Cat, loved to slide between the bedspread and the blanket after the bed was made--when he wasn't hiding out in boxes and bags, that is. I'd come home from work and see a huge (20-lb) lump in the middle of the bed! Sammy, my husband's Moluccan cockatoo, is adopted. (Just like all the animals in our house.) Her original parents must have argued a LOT, because she role-plays arguments whenever we raise our voices--even if we're in a good mood. Whatever! Whatever! she'll shriek, flapping her wings and getting fluffy in the process. (I've omitted the X-rated words she also shrieks.)

Have any funny, or weird, pet stories of your own you want to share? Feel free.

Friday, September 4, 2009

What is Your Favorite Type of Book Setting?

Some people love the ocean; others prefer lakes or rivers. Some people would kill to live in smalltown USA and others gladly leave their entire family behind to move to the Big City.

Some readers love stories about the wild west and cowboys; others prefer books that take place in sophisticated cities, with fancy restaurants, designer clothes, and big bucks being tossed around.

Is the setting in your favorite book similar to the one in which you live? Or is it the polar-opposite? As a writer, do you use settings you know or are you constantly researching (and visiting) new locales for your stories and novels?

Sometimes, setting actually becomes a character, taking on a life of its own and foreshadowing events. It certainly sets the mood or tone of a story--everyone knows was a dark and gloomy night... Okay, so that one's overdone. But you get my point, don't you?

Personally, I hate it when the setting is overdone and the author leaves nothing to my imagination or personal preference. Yes, I'd like to have a rough idea of what the room looks like. But don't point out each piece of furniture in excruciating detail and then inform me of the precise locations of the five paintings in the room with respect to the three windows and two doors. Tell me the sky is blue and dotted with clouds and that the tree leaves are fluttering in the breeze. But don't describe the shapes of the clouds and list the fourteen different species of tress in the front yard. Or specify the precise shade of blue - I can handle that one myself.

What are your favorite, and least favorite, things about settings? Have any good ideas or tips? Please share!

Marketing: Carolina Conspiracy style

A number of mystery/suspense writers in North and South Carolina formed a group to help promote themselves. As you know, writers tend to be a bit on the shy and introverted side and self-promotion and marketing does not always come easy.

Click here to learn all about how to market in Carolina style.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Want Marketing Tips and Advice?

If you're one of those people who loves to write but HATES to market yourself, you might want to check in on my Self-Marketing column on the Billings Examiner.

I write regular articles about self-marketing and promotion that will include the following angles:
  • interviews with professionals willing to share terrific ideas that worked
  • interviews with professionals willing to share lousy ideas that didn't work
  • tips and advice from my personal experience of over 30 years in sales and marketing
  • hints about where to do business locally and on the Internet
  • how-tos
If you have information you'd like to share, or if you're willing to spotlight yourself and/or your business, shoot me at e-mail at:

Click the logo to be connected to my site on

You might also want to check out some of the other terrific articles on the Billings Examiner!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Secret Life of...Postcards

Bet you didn't know that Postcards are the chameleon of the stationery world.

Yep, they masquerade as all sorts of wonderful and beneficial marketing tools for us writers. Cheap little buggers too.

Here's the scoop: One of my online writing pals, Elizabeth Spann Craig, has a 6-year old marketing genius in her household and she claims that the genetic make-up skipped a generation--namely, hers. Well, although I don't necessarily agree 100% with that assessment, I shared with her some of the ways postcards get away with living their secret life.

Since Elizabeth now believes I'm a marketing genius (please don't disabuse her of this notion), I thought I'd share this genius with all my fans.
  1. Design your own postcard and pay a printer a bucketload of $$, order them online (fairly inexpensive and good quality) from any one of a variety of firms (i.e., or pay a graphic designer a bucketload of $$ to design AND print them. Purpose: put your book cover on one side and your website and details of where/how to buy it on the back - leaving enough space to hand write either an address for mailing OR a personal note if distributing by hand.
  2. Bribe friends, family, and co-workers to pass out/mail your marketing postcards: i.e. in exchange for a free copy of your book, they must pass out X # of postcards
  3. Display your postcards, with handwritten notes on the back side, in the office at your "day" job
  4. Pass out signed postcards to your bank tellers, grocery store cashiers, hairdressers, manicurists, etc. - and all their co-workers
  5. Pass out signed postcards at PTA meetings, Little League games, soccer matches, the local library, church, etc. You'd be surprised at how many people/places would love to take a couple of postcards - especially if the picture/book cover is terrific.
  6. Allow your children/grandchildren to bring a copy of your book to school for Show and Tell - along with a bunch of signed postcards (this, actually, was my daughter's genius - she sent my 10 YO granddaughter Bridget to school w/book and PCs - way to go, Beth!)
  7. Scan your PC into your computer, both sides, and e-mail to everyone you know (this is my other daughter's genius - yay, Laurie!)
  8. Produce a son who, when he grows up, is part-owner of a lawn care business who is thrilled to pass out his mother's marketing PCs to all his clients (Michael, genius #3)
  9. Imitate the marketing genius of my 79 YO father (who was an insurance salesman before he retired) and pass the damn PCs out at the casino - but only to strangers who qualify after you ask them specific prospecting questions, like: Do you like to read? Do you like to read mysteries? Would you be interested in reading my famous daughter's mystery? When and ONLY when you get yes answers to all 3 questions, THEN you pass out the PC. This is a true story - my Dad DID this: he didn't want to "waste" the good money I spent on the postcards by giving them to unqualified prospects. The funniest part of the whole scenario is that one total stranger tapped him on the shoulder about 4 weeks after he gave him a PC and told him he bought and loved the book!)
I could have given you 10, 12, or 15 tips, but I like the number 9 better.
Now that you're applauding my genius, all I ask in return is that you: a) add your genius to the blog in the form of comments with other ways to creatively distribute postcards, b) link to this post in your own blog so we can all exponentially expand our marketing horizons.
P.S. Just landed an online gig to write self-marketing articles. Once things are finalized, I'll post an announcement here.
P.P.S. Elizabeth, please share your daughter's genius. She's an ace - can't wait to see what she decides to do when she grows up!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Why did my Author Exchange Blog Win a Kreative Blogger Award?

Because Patricia Stoltey at says so, that's why! I received the award for my Author Exchange Blog, where I interview published writers and other professionals in the publishing world. Amazing how helping market other writers generates world-wide friendships!

Thank you, Patricia, for bestowing this award on me.

Following Patricia's lead, I pass on The Rules (there are always rules for qualification to win an award, even if you didn't know you were under consideration!):
  1. Thank the person who nominated you for this award.
  2. Copy the logo and place it on your blog.
  3. Link to the person who nominated you for this award.
  4. Name 7 things about yourself that people might find interesting--or that thay don't know...
  5. Nominate 7 Kreativ Bloggers.
  6. Post links to the 7 blogs you nominate.
  7. Leave a comment on each of the blogs letting them know they have been nominated.
Well, I've followed Rules #1-3, so here are my 7 things in compliance with Rule #4:

  1. I love Rottweilers.
  2. I'd like to be a member of the panel of insurance professionals who draft the verbiage for the "stupidity" exclusion in an insurance policy.
  3. I played the violin in 2nd grade, graduating to the guitar and piano--much to my parents' delight. Still have the piano they gave me for my 18th birthday.
  4. Met my first boyfriend at age 5 - at the school bus stop. He lives in Colorado and we still keep in touch.
  5. Met my husband on the school bus in high school. (Yes, he lives here with me in Montana - and we still keep in touch!)
  6. I'm scared to death of heights - and about 47,000 other things.
  7. I believe that true friendship is one of the most valuable commodities in the world.
Now on to Rules #5 and #6 - here are 7 of my most favorite blogs:
  1. Copyblogger
  2. Colleen Collins' Guns, Gams, and Gumshoes
  3. D.P. Lyle, M.D.'s Writer's Forensics Blog
  4. Bill Kirton's Living, Writing, and Other Stuff
  5. Amigo's Pets and Their Authors (he owns author Mayra Calvani)
  6. The gang at Type M for Murder
  7. The gang at Carolina Conspiracy
One thing I've learned about blogging is that it's all about the readers. Hopefully, the blogs I've listed will offer you readers a variety of interesting and humorous new resources.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Who Else Works on Multiple Books at the Same Time?

Have you ever worked on more than one book at a time? I never did until a few months ago, and now I've turned into a monster!

I think it has to do with my "day" job: I write insurance seminars, outlines, and articles - along with career development workshops. In that venue, it has never been uncommon for me to work on multiple projects.

Several months ago, I began researching and putting together a concept for a mystery series. Because I was doing planning, I wasn't getting any personal writing done so I began writing a sequel to Second Time Around. Then, an idea for a mystery I'd been toying with for several years finally came together, and I started writing that. Well, the mystery project took off and I've pretty much left the sequel to STA in its infant stages (and the series concept still isn't gelling).

Here's the monster part: When searching through some files in my laptop I came across a scene I wrote several years ago. It's not related to anything - just something that came to me as a great opening for a book. And I'm hooked.

I'm thinking about playing with it - not outlining or planning or plotting: just having fun. It could be a romance, it could be a mystery - there are enough "seeds" in the 23 pages I've produced to take it in any of several directions.

Your comments and suggestions?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rejection or Revision Request?

One of my dearest friends, who is a writer, sent me an e-mail today, bemoaning yet another rejection. She and I have known each other for about 20 years, served together on the Board for a local chapter of a writer's group for 4 years, and have critiqued and line-edited each other's manuscripts--every last one of them.

Because of this relationship, my friend e-mailed me the text of her "rejection" letter. I'm SO glad she sent it, because--in my opinion--it's NOT a rejection letter. I shot an e-mail right back to my friend, pointing out that:

  • The editor said she's not ready to offer a contract yet
  • The editor pointed out a couple of things she usually does with a "rejection" letter and that she didn't do most of them for my friend because the MS is really good
  • The editor pointed out precisely what she wanted revised and, more importantly, WHY
  • The editor was both complimentary and constructively critical; a tough thing to do
  • The editor ended her letter by stressing that she really hopes my friend tackles the revisions because she really likes the story; she also emphasized that if my friend does resubmit, it should go right back to her

So, is this a rejection or a revision request?

Technically, I suppose, it is a rejection. But the salesperson in me refuses to take a not right now or a not like this, but maybe some other way as a rejection. (The writer in me agrees with the salesperson. So does the optimist in me.)

Here are samples of what I think of as rejections:

  • Months and months of silence, aka You're not even important enough to respond to
  • The form letter rejection, aka Nope, sorry
  • No thank you, your submission doesn't meet our needs at this time
  • Not ever in this lifetime
  • Go away, you suck--don't ever submit to me again

Your thoughts?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Article in Austin Examiner: Linda Faulkner - Another Example of Great Women Authors

Sylvia Dickey Smith highlighted me in her article in today's issue of the Austin Examiner. She begins:

Linda Faulkner writes mystery—and how! Her book, Second Time Around, starts off with a dead body in the driveway and grows more mysterious. Plus, her “leading woman” has a mind of her own and accepts herself for who she is—an admirable role model for women readers.

To read the rest of her article, click this link:

Sylvia is the author of the Sidra Smart mystery series and her column in the Austin Examiner focuses on women writers over 50.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Listen to Blog Talk Radio Interview

Click here to listen to this afternoon's radio intervew by Sylvia Dickey Smith:

Thanks, Syl! I had a terrific time and appreciate the exposure.

Listen to my Blog Talk Radio Interview!

I am fortunate enough to be the guest of Sylvia Dickey Smith on her Murder, She Writes Blog Talk Radio Show his afternoon. We'll be talking about writing, in general, and my mystery, Second Time Around, as well.

The interview airs live at 5:00pm CST and can be heard at:

The show will be recorded and available tomorrow for download to your computer or MP3 player. I'll also have a link to it on my website within the next day or two.

To learn more about Sylvia, the author of the Sidra Smart mystery series, visit her website at:

Monday, August 10, 2009

Writing Cures Headaches

No, I'm not crazy. Writing--if you're me, cures headaches.

I began experiencing headaches as a teenager. From my vantage point some four decades later, I can see they were a symptom of stress and worry. Big surprise. In my very late thirties, migraines began plaguing me. Hormones was the diagnosis but, if you ask me, they're blamed for everything once a woman hits 35. Sigh. Back to the headaches. My migraines were called cluster migraines--which are more common among men than women. (Funny how the hormone diagnosis still stuck in view of that!) The really cool thing [NOT!] about cluster migraines is that they're a series of migraines, one right after the other, that can go on for days and include nausea and seeing yellow spots. Fortunately, I was prescribed medication and one dose generally heads one of them off.

Anyway, now that I'm in my fifties, I get fewer headaches and migraines. Until this weekend. You see, my July was something else and I believe my weekend bonanza was the cumulation of an eventful July - I typically get let-down stress headaches, not building-up stress headaches.

So, you ask, what does this plethora of boring headache information have to do with writing?

Well, boys and girls, after taking 3 migraine pills over a period of several hours, followed by a soothing, hot bubble bath, what cured my migraine was sitting down at my laptop and working on my book! How could I have forgotten how relaxing writing is?

Yes, it's hard work. Yes, it can be frustrating. Yes, it takes forever to get a payoff. On the other hand, it's my all-time favorite thing to do. Well, maybe not all the time. On occasion, my husband has been known to distract me for a few hours...

Seriously, when I write, I enter a world with endless possibilities. Sure, bad things happen in my books--I write mysteries, so someone has to die. But I get to control who it is and why. I also get to shut out all the annoying, aggravating things in my life while I'm writing: dishes, dust, laundry, the ringing telephone, etc.

Writing might be hard and sometimes frustrating. But it makes me happy life few things other than the people I love can do.

Next time I feel a headache coming on, I'll be reaching for my laptop instead of the pill bottle...

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Plotting - Do You Have Any Suggestions?

By far, my biggest writing challenge is with plotting.

I either come up with a few terrific scenes and then border on the edge of panic when it comes to stringing them together with interesting material OR write by the seat of my pants and allow my characters to plot the rest of the story. I spend a lot of time wishing I had a plotting partner or two - but how can I ask people to give up their valuable time in pursuit of my imaginary friends?

The pantsing method has been working for me lately but, being somewhat anal about organization, I'm concerned that it may not continue working into the future. I think the major reason it's been working is because I'm tossing obstacles into the paths of my characters and it's easier dreaming up ways for them to overcome the obstacles than to plan scene after scene.

After all, isn't that what life's about? We're not privy to the grand scheme (the plot) and tend to flounder along, doing our best, oftentimes being more reactive than proactive.

Do you have any suggestions for jump-starting my plotting meter? I'm appreciate of any suggestions or ideas.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

First Amendment Rights or Being Nasty?

Pardon me as I step up onto my soapbox.

I embrace the First Amendment and our rights to say what we want, write what we want, publish what we want, etc. I do, however, have a problem with those who--in my opinion--step over the line in exercising their rights by stomping all over the rights of other people.

Case in point: an exceedingly nasty comment left by an anonymous individual on another blog that I moderate. Here's the scenario:
  • Blog post about Person A - with links to Person A's website, blog, etc.
  • Comment left by Person B, who did not provide his/her name and specifically requested his/her comment to be posted anonymously. Comment contained NO remarks about the content of the original blog post, but Person B did: (1) call Person A three nasty names, (2) make disparaging remarks about Person A's website, (3) make disparaging remarks about Person A's personal life and relationships, (4) say that he/she would never utilize the services of Person A if he/she were the last person on earth.

Does Person B have a right to say what he/she wants? Absolutely. But I had to ask myself several questions (and then answer them):

  1. Did anyone solicit Person B's opinion? (No)
  2. Was the purpose of the original blog post to discuss a particular topic? (Yes)
  3. Did the comment address the topic discussed in the original blog post? (N0)
  4. Did the comment serve ANY purpose? (Yes: Bashing Person A from a personal perspective so as to negatively affect Person A's business life.)
  5. Was the comment's intent purely objective? (Absolutely not.)
  6. When does a person cross the line between freedom of speech and slander/libel? (Can't tell you, I'm not a lawyer.)
  7. When does a person cross the line between being constructively critical and downright nasty? (When his/her sole purpose is to do injury/harm rather than offer the opportunity for growth, development, and improvement.)

I'm all for exercising our rights. But please, consider the rights of then next person you talk about or write about. S/he has rights too. If you cross the line, you're definitely going to harm yourself right along with your target. In some cases, you'll harm yourself more. Maybe Mr./Ms. Anonymous feels he/she got away with jabbing at Person A. Maybe, in fact, he/she did.

But if you ask me (I know, you didn't--please humor me any way), bashing someone anonymously is a small, sneaky, especially repugnant form of nasty. It's lower than low. And there's only one guy I know who'll be able to exact the appropriate form of punishment. So I'll leave it up to Him and step down from my soapbox.

Thank you for listening.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Characterization and Life's Experiences

As writers, we're constantly using life's experience as fodder for our characters. We also tend to use words for the majority of our communication. Which is ironic in light of the fact that our actual words represent 7% our our total communication output.

No! I'm not pulling your leg! Research indicates the following facts with respect to how we communicate:
  • 7% of our our communication output is represented by the actual words we speak
  • 38% of our communication output is represented by our tone of voice, volume, and rate of speech
  • 55% of our communication output is represented by our body language
Here's the proof: Think back to a time when you asked one of your friends how she was doing. She said, "fine," but you knew she was full of buppies. How? ESP? Mind-reading? I doubt it. How about because her tone of voice was softer than usual? Or because the typical sparkle was missing from her expression? Or because she didn't make eye contact? Or because of all 3?
As many of you know, I spent 10 days in July with my father - who underwent unanticipated triple bypass surgery in Massachusetts, 2,700 miles from my home in Montana. My sister and I stayed at his house with Dad - me 24/7 once he was released from the hospital.
I learned an awful lot about Dad during those days - and even more about our relationship and our family dynamics. Yes, we spoke of things we'd never discussed before. But I learned more from my observations, the things Dad didn't say, and his behavior. Which was excellent, by the way - something I hadn't expected.
Funny how traumas and unexpected events force us look at life, other people, and ourselves from a different perspective.
Keep that in mind when you're creating your characters - and during the process of their growth and development in your books and stories. What might be considered "normal" behavior for a character can undergo a significant alteration in response to stress or an unexpected experience.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Humane Award

Thanks to Patricia Stoltey for passing this award along to me. To read about it and the terrific company I'm keeping, click here:

Monday, July 13, 2009

Elements of a Hero

Thanks to the folks at Chasing Heroes for being interested in my take on what makes a hero. Here's a link to my guest post, which appears today:

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Book Character Names - How do You Dream Them Up?

The one thing I never do is name a character after a real, live person - except for the times when I do.

Huh? you ask.

Let me explain: I'll give a character a real person's name - but NEVER the very same person's personality. Case in point: In my mystery, Second Time Around, a fellow appears at the end of the story and his name is Donald McHenry. I DO know a fellow named Donald McHenry - he's my 79 year old father. But he's nothing like the character in the book: a 55 year old CPA with a full head of curly dark hair. Well...okay...maybe the real DM is color-blind, just like the guy in the book...

All kidding aside, the first names - and sometimes even the full names - of people I know appear in my books, but never with the same personality types or occupations or physical characteristics. I am not the least bit interested in being sued for libel, slander, invasion of privacy, etc. In the case of the situation with my father, I had his blessing (read: permission). But in other cases, the people whose names I borrowed were thrilled: my friends and my children. I also only use these "borrowed" names for secondary or incidental characters. I do not use them for main characters. I've often thought of using the name of an old boyfriend as the murderer or, God forbid, the name of my ex-husband. But I think that's walking way too close to the line.

When it comes to naming main characters, I keep a number of things in mind:
  • Avoid using the same sound, or beginning letters: i.e. Jack and Joan; Barney and Bonnie
  • Avoid cutesy names: i.e. Jack and Jill; Pat and Mike
  • Avoid spellings that don't easily translate phonetically: i.e. Celenie or Siobhan
  • Use ethic names when appropriate
  • I tend to use one syllable first names for male protagonists, especially names with hard sounds: i.e. Jack, Ben
  • I tend to use two-syllable first names for female protagonists - this contrasts with the one syllable male protagonist names
  • I prefer Irish or Celtic names (strictly personal)
  • I prefer that first and last names have some common sounds--this works well for auditory readers: Lyn McLaren, Timmie Campbell
  • I prefer NOT to use overly unusual/uncommon names: i.e. Balthazar, Mordyce
How do you dream up the names of your characters?

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Plugging Away...Daily


It's the single most important aspect of writing daily. Actual production ranks right up there, but momentum is what keeps you going and keeps you involved.

Even if you re-read the last scene you wrote yesterday and have only 15 minutes to write today, those extra sentences--or that paragraph or three--put your mind right back into your project and propel you forward. Even if what you wrote yesterday was garbage, and today's efforts just make the pile bigger, you're more in tune with what you shouldn't be doing--which is the first step toward figuring out what the heck you should be doing.

I wonder how YOU benefit from writing daily...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Do YOU Re-read Your Books?

Okay, here's the scoop with me and books:
  • I'm addicted - a lousy book is better than no book or a magazine or a newspaper
  • I keep most books I buy - since I generally read the first few paragraphs of a book before I buy it, I seldom buy a book I wind up not liking - then again there's the books I get as gifts (some of those do get recycled)
  • I re-read my favorite authors - of course I have to wait at least a year, because I remember the excellent characters and plots
  • I NEVER bend the corners - sacrilege!
  • I DO break the bindings - how else can a book feel comfortable in your hand?
  • I do - sometimes - pencil in the margins, underline, or highlight - this is only with self-help and motivational books - NOT, God forbid, fiction
  • I put address labels inside the front cover - don't ever borrow a book from me and not give it back!

There are probably some other weird things, but that's all I can think of at the moment. Oh, no, wait, there IS one more thing. My house contains 6 bookcases and I don't stack books in the traditional library method. I have so many books that the shelves have them stacked in piles two deep; the shop shelves have stacks so tall they're in danger of falling over. If you ever need to consider what kind of gift to get me: bookshelf - that's the thing. BEFORE I moved to Montana, I had WAY more books - I could only pack and fit 15 boxes of books in the moving van or else my husband would have divorced me. He got a hernia moving those boxes, I packed them so full.

Why don't you share some of your book pecadillos? Then I won't feel so weird...

Monday, June 29, 2009

My grandkitty read Second Time Around!

My daughter suspects that Webster stayed up, all night, reading. Here's why:

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Manic Readers Site

I was just referred to as a site to post an author page and request a book review.

They accept PDF uploads of your book and, although they don't promise a review, seem to have reviewed a great number of books - some of which were penned by very well-known authors.

Why not give it a shot?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Janet Evanovich's 15th Plum novel was released today. I, of course, picked it up at the bookstore 'cuz it's been on order for months. I also finished reading it in one sitting. Funny, it took her a year to write it and I read it in a few hours.


If Evan Hunter/Ed McBain were still alive, I'd have done the same thing with the pre-ordering and picking up on the day his latest book was released.

When I think VOICE, these two people immediately come to mind. They have totally different voices and they write about totally different things. They don't need to have their names affixed to a piece of work for me to recognize them, however. Their perspectives of the world are unique, as are those of their characters.

A lot of blogs have been discussing the topic Plot or Character lately and for me, it's always been VOICE. The plot could be the most intriguing thing to hit fiction in the past hundred years and if the author's voice doesn't grab me, I'm not interested. The character can sound appealing on the cover blurb, but if it isn't imbued with a distinctive voice, I don't really care about him or her.

Now that I think about it, Rex Stout's voice was especially strong in the Nero Wolfe series.

Voice is something editors and agents tell us we have to have, it's something we writers write about, but it's elusive. There aren't any How-Tos when it comes to Voice, as there are with POV, Plotting, Setting the Scene, etc. At least not that I've seen.

Do you have any tips or suggestions about VOICE?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Really Good Advice

I just re-read Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit - a how-to book for writers. Of all the writer's how-to books I've read, this is my favorite.

Why, you ask? I'll tell you why. His advice is good. It works. Here's a brief summary:
  • Don't over explain. Trust the reader.
  • Don't over-describe. Let the reader use his/her imagination.
  • "Don't begin at the beginning."
  • Verbs are usually the culprit in sentences that don't work.
  • Characters must be: plausible, sympathetic, and original
  • "Hang out." As in, go places. See new things, eavesdrop on conversations, collect grist for your [writing] mill.
  • "Spring forward, fall back."

And the absolute best explanation about how to plot: Put a bear in a canoe...

If you don't have the book, go out and buy it. Now!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why I Hate TV

I hate TV.

Not the machine itself, but the idiotic stuff it airs.

I separated from my ex-husband in mid-September 1991. I got the the 3 kids, the business, and some furniture. He got the house and the TV. I hated TV back then and figured it was worth it to give him the house to get rid of the TV. (I did want the kids.) I hate TV so much, in fact, it took my [then] 10, 11, and 13 year-olds eight weeks after the separation to convince me to buy them another one. They couldn't convince me to buy a remote control though; it's an evil thing and promotes couch-potatoism.

This morning, I heard two DJs talking on the radio about how they like most of the the reality TV shows on TV. They did discuss two reality shows they hate. Tell me, how are "reality" TV shows realistic?

What's life-like about dropping a bunch of people off on an island and putting them through a tests like eating bugs, swimming in water with octopuses (or is it octupi?), and stuff like that?

What's realistic about tossing a bachelor (or bachelorette) together with a dozen members of the opposite sex with the expectation that after all kinds of silliness, he (or she) will fall and love and live happily ever after with one of the dirty dozen? If happily-ever-after were that easy, wouldn't our mothers have just tossed us in a room with twelve of their favorites years ago?

And what about wife-swapping? Like it happens in real life the way they portray it on reality TV shows...

When I was a kid, my parents watched Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and the Waltons. Even then, I thought those shows were stupid. Like a bunch of guys really lived their entire lives, week after week, in a submarine underwater. No women, no kids, no dogs, no cats. Right. And the Waltons. My parents were never that nice. Don't get me wrong, my parents were great. But my dad yelled once in a while. My mom got cranky--a lot. (She had 4 kids. It makes sense now.) And my brothers were NOTHING like John-Boy...

I preferred spending time alone in my room, playing paper dolls, reading, lip-syncing to the songs on the record player, or--better yet, writing stories.

Still do.

Only difference, these days, is that my kid sister doesn't piece together the ripped pages of my rough drafts after she digs them out of the trash. She can't--she lives 2,700 miles away!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Writers and Their Pets

Does it seem to you that most writers are also animal lovers? Just about every writer I know has a handful of critters hanging around the house: dogs, cats, parrots, gerbils...

Is it because our critters provide us with love, attention, and silence--which makes them far more attractive as roommates?

Is it because of our tendency toward solitary pursuits, either by choice or requirements of the profession?

Or is it something else? Share your thoughts with me, I'm curious.

P.S. Delaney, Charlotte, and Max follow me everywhere (into the bathroom, if I let them!) and are, as we speak, warming my feet.

P.P.S. The two feathered creatures, especially the loud, noisy one, belong to my husband. It was simply an anomaly that I taught Miss Big Mouth to say Hi, dad!

WHERE Do You Come Up With Your Ideas?

No, I'm not asking you the same question people ask us writers all the time, How do you come up with your ideas?

I'm asking WHERE - as in, physically, geographically. WHERE is your body, and what is it doing, when your best ideas come to mind?

Behind the wheel of your Subaru when you're tooling at 75 MPG on the interstate? During the 10-minute breaks you get each hour when you're making an eight-hour business presentation? Aha, the shower, right? What about when you're horizontal beneath the sheets and unconscious? (I don't know about you, but my unconscious mind works WAY better than my conscious mind. Is that a sign of age? No, don't answer that.)

Most of my best ideas come to me when I'm physically doing something OTHER than writing and generally don't have access to a pen and paper. (Or that wonderful memo tool on my cell phone!)

WHERE are YOU when your best ideas zap that light bulb picture above your head?

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Perks of Writing in the Mountains

Mom with her newborn twins; she allowed my husband within 12 feet to take the family photo. Last week, a different doe gave birth to a single fawn in our yard in a different location. Although this happens every spring, we never tire of it.

The twins were born yesterday, 6/10/09; their fur is still damp in this photo.

Young Mr. Moose visited us for the first time in the fall of 2007 when he was a baby. This shot was taken last Friday, 6/5/09.

NOW, do you understand why I spend so much time looking out the windows or sitting on the front porch?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Carolina Conspiracy Blog

Many thanks to the authors of the Carolina Conspiracy Blog for inviting me as a guest blogger this week.

Here's a link to my article, What Next?

Monday, June 8, 2009

Writing Funny

Don't you just love to read stuff that's funny? Don't you wish you could write it?

I do. And I'm sure I could, if only I could come up with a character who lent herself to funny. I've been toying with some ideas, but none of them have gelled.

If you know of any good resources or have any good suggestions please, let me know. I really need some help.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Generosity of Writers

Just a quick little post to share the word about the generosity of writers.

Because of my blogging efforts during the past several months, I've come to meet a number of truly TERRIFIC writiers--in all genres. They've shared advice, information, writing tips, promotional opportunities, and their books. Yes, one person actually sent me a copy of her book as a thank-you for me helping her convert a photo of a pet to a JPG file!

I've also come across some excellent reading material, by authors I never would have known about before I launched myself into the world of Blog.

My personal life has become so much richer because of these new friends and acquaintances--something I hadn't counted on.

Writers rock!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Marketing - the Other Side of Writing

Many writers believe that so long as they faithfully crank out a certain number of pages or words per day, they're writers.

While the actual writing is certainly an essential part of being a writer, so is the marketing and promotion of your work. How are readers going to know about your masterpiece if they don't know it exists?

Readers don't have ESP, you know. They don't receive telekinetic messages from our publishers when our books hit the stands. Which means it's up to us to inform them about our newest release.

Here are some ways that you can help promote your work, 24/7/365:
  • Help market and promote the books of other writers. We all have different circles of friends, family, acquaintances, business associates, fans, etc. By promoting other writers, we broaden our contact base and, as a result, our fan base. Host a blog, seek out blogs where you can post articles or announcements, join writer's groups and their listserves, join as many online writer's sites that allow you to post information about you and your books/works.
  • Print up postcards or bookmarks to marketing/advertise your work and pass them out to the following people (some of whom you can recruit to pass them out to people THEY know): friends, family, co-workers, employees, clients/customers, bank tellers, grocery store clerks, your kids' teachers, member of civic groups, people at the gym, public bulletin boards, total strangers. (I've found postcards to be less costly. If you want a referral to an online site that prints quality material inexpensively, send me an e-mail.)
  • Have nice business cards printed on quality cardstock. Pass those around to people as stated in the previous paragraph. If you take yourself seriously, and as a professional, others are likely to, as well.
  • Contact local bookstore owners and offer to do book signings and/or readings.
  • Contact local radio and TV stations and offer to give away signed copies of your books in exchange for brief free air-time.
  • Offer to give writing workshops at local libraries, schools, bookstores, etc.
NEVER stop promoting your book(s) and telling people about them. ALWAYS have copies of them handy for sale.
One thing I've learned, which still amazes me: people are thrilled to know published authors! They love the fact that they KNOW a published author and love, even more, TELLING OTHER PEOPLE that they know a published author. Take advantage of that love and allow those people to help you.
Be sure, however, to thank EVERYONE who helps you along the way. Although it's possible to write a book all by yourself, it isn't possible to market it all by yourself.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Newly Designed Website

Check out my newly designed web site and let me know what you think of it!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Do You Believe in Writer's Block?


Seriously, I've been listening to writers discuss this subject for over 20 years. Some writers have terrible bouts of writer's block and others don't have a clue.

I'm one of those writers who, personally, doesn't believe in it. I can always write. Always.

Unfortunately, I don't always write stuff that will ever see the light of day, let alone a printed page--nor am I always motivated to write on my current project. But I write. Every day. Fortunately, I have a newspaper column to create each month, along with 6-12 magazine articles each year. I also have insurance industry trade texts and seminars to research, develop, and write all year long. So, when I find myself struggling with one project, I simply focus on another one. At the moment, I'm in the process of writing two books: a follow-up to my mystery Second Time Around and a new book, a romantic suspense. Now, maybe I'd be better off focusing all my energies on one book. We all know I'll get it finished quicker than the way I'm doing it now. Maybe the book would be better written. But maybe it won't. I've been finding myself getting deeper into the characters--of both books--this way. Probably because my unconscious is working on whatever book is not actually in front of me. (Let me share a secret: my unconscious seems to work much more effectively that my conscious as I age...)

Anyway, enough about me. WHAT ABOUT YOU? DO YOU BELIEVE IN WRITER'S BLOCK? Let me know! Here are some things I'm interested in:
  1. What is your description of writer's block? I suspect it means different things to different people.
  2. How often do you get writer's block? With regularity or sporadically?
  3. Does anything in particular spur your writer's block? (i.e. Deadlines, allergies, arguments with your spouse/SO, etc.) If stress is your answer, please be specific about the type of stress.
  4. Does anything help you destroy the little bugger? (i.e. Alcohol, tea, coffee, chocolate, a run through the park, a game of basketball, screaming at the top of your lungs while you're driving your car, etc.)
  5. Pontificate - tell you YOUR opinion.
Let's work together to find a cure for writer's block. (I know, you're thinking, yeah right. But why not at least discuss it? We may come up with something that helps another writer.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Sharing with Other Writers

I find that one of the biggest motivators in my writing life is interaction with fellow writers. I still recall how I felt after my very first attendance at a meeting of writers: ecstatic. I'd just met a group of total strangers who knew more about me, in many ways, than my parents, my [then] spouse, my kids, and my best friend.

They understood the voices I heard in my head--and didn't think I needed to be committed! I could ask, Wouldn't it be neat if a dead body came rolling down the hillside? and they'd agree. Emphatically. And not even once consider that they might need to be dialling 911 in the near future.

I recently corresponded with a fellow writer who shares one of my beliefs, a belief that I was hesitant to share even with other writers. He told me: I don't believe in writer's block. Well, I don't, either! And I'm SO glad that there's another person, another WRITER, who understands. I'll bet there are lots of other writers who understand. I should have realized that right from the beginning.

Which is what I'm saying, in a roundabout way. So I'll get to the point: SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS AND FEELINGS WITH FELLOW WRITERS. It doesn't matter if they're published or not. It doesn't matter what genre they write or prefer. What matters is that they're open to sharing with you, as well. So much of our writing lives is solitary and, you've gotta admit, a step outside of ordinary--whatever ordinary is.

I began hosting an Author Exchange Blog several months ago. I personally know only a few of the people I've interviewed; most I never met or spoke with until they were introduced to me for promotion purposes. My life has been enriched by my interactions with these people--people I'd never have met if I wasn't a writer. They live all over the world, they write all kinds of stuff--from erotica, to horror, to true crime, to mystery, to romance, to historical, to non-fiction.

If you're a writer--especially if you're pre-published--get out there and meet other writers. There's no other motivator or support-system more beneficial.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Never Give Up on Your Dreams

When you were a kid, what did you dream of being when you grew up? A baseball player? A rock star? An actress? A doctor? A mother? An astronaut? A ballerina?

I always wanted to be a published writer. Pat Goldman, my 7th grade English teacher, was the first person who explained the process of becoming published and told me that it was a goal I could reach. It took me 34 years from that time to see my first published newspaper column; 36 years before my first insurance text was published; 38 years before my first magazine article was published; and 41 years before my first novel was published. If you believe in yourself and your dream, if you keep plugging away at it, you will realize it. Of course, having people like Pat believe in you doesn't hurt, either.

For some of us, life drops itself into our path like huge boulders. Precious dream-chasing time is sacrificed as we detour around those boulders, climb over them, or sometimes blast through them. People become more important than our dreams, especially those we love, as do our jobs and other duties and responsibilities. For those of us who keep our dreams alive, although we may tuck them out of sight, we never completely lose sight of them.

For me, novel-writing took tremendous amounts of time. I wrote five of them in four years. Life intruded in the form of a divorce and the responsibilities of motherhood; I couldn't sacrifice my children to my dream. So, I channeled it into journalling and newspaper articles and insurance texts--things I had time for without sacrificing the three most important people in my life. When a fellow I know presented me with the opportunity to write magazine articles, I jumped at it. The research and writing time was a bit more extensive but, by then, my children were grown I was able to find the time among my other responsibilities. These writing activities rekindled my dream to write another novel. The passion for writing flared, once again, from a spark into a bonfire and I completed the first draft of my sixth novel within three and a half months.

Might I have published a novel sooner had I spent more time writing? Maybe. Maybe not. I surely wouldn't have possessed the life experience, the support-system, or the writing expertise that I gained during my detour-years.

Am I disappointed that it took me this long? Absolutely not. Shortly after Second Time Around was released for publication, I was chatting with my father. He's not known for gushing or freely offering words of praise, so his words meant that much more to me. He told me he was proud that I'd published a book--it's not a feat that many people accomplish. But, he added, he was proudest of my stick-to-itiveness: he didn't know another person who'd pursued her dream so many years.

I recently read a book titled The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli and Dianna Burrell. A theme that repeats itself in the book and on their blog is: persistence.

In other words: Keep going. Don't stop. Quitting is not an option. Never surrender.

Fact & Fiction Books in downtown Missoula hosted my first book signing & reading last night. Words cannot express how I felt seeing piles of Second Time Around in the bookstore and hearing the kind words of Barbara Theroux as she introduced me before my reading. What moved me even more, however, were the people who attended and their kind words and support. Their purchases of my book didn't hurt, either.

Am I all dreamed out now that this 41 year-old dream has been realized? Absolutely not. I already have a new dream. I'm hoping it won't take as many years to be realized. But if it does, we already know I have the stamina.